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A Study On The Shiite Imams
Nature of Imamate
Question no. 1: What is Imamate and what are its kingpins?
Literally, Imamate means ‘leadership’, ‘leading’ and ‘public headship’. Imam means ‘leader’, ‘exemplar’, ‘guide’ and ‘one who is followed’.
In theological terms, Imamate means ‘succeeding the Prophet in headship and general leadership of the nation in both religious and worldly affairs and protecting religion in a way that following Imam is an obligation for the whole nation’.
According to this definition, Imam is the Prophet’s successor, continuing his functions in all of the abovementioned affairs except receiving the prophetic revelation and serving it. Indeed, Imamate is the comprehensive continuation of the prophethood line among the human beings. Imam is responsible for the followings: the complete religious authority; explaining and interpreting the religion infallibly; protecting the religion; protection, propagation and diffusion of religious teachings, values and guidance; diffusion of religious education; enforcing religious precepts and laws; resolving intellectual and theoretical disagreements in understanding religion; establishment of justice; fair judgment among the people; establishment of security; large-scale management of the society and general leadership of the nation based on the Islamic teachings.
The Quran and Imamate
The holy Quran pays special attention to the discussion of Imamate, dealing with it in different cases. Some of the Quran’s teachings in this regard are as follows:
1. Imamate is a divine covenant;
2. It is in a position higher than the prophethood;
3. It is the precondition for the realization of the prophethood;
4. It is the precondition for perfection and comprehensiveness of religion;
In Shiite view, Imam must enjoy certain qualifications, most important of which are as follows:
2. Divine knowledge and knowing all religious laws and teachings;
3. Superiority in all human perfections;
4. Being nominated and appointed [by Allah].
In view of Imam’s important position and functions, his infallibility seems to be an obvious matter; however, numerous reasons have been stated in this regard. Some of these discussions are as follows:
Question no. 2: Why is Imamate necessary? What are Sunnite and Shiite views in this regard?
a) Consensus on the Necessity of Religious Leadership
The Imamate as a principle is an axiomatic issue, agreed upon by Sunnite and Shiite thinkers and scholars. Ibn Khaldūn, the prominent Sunnite thinker, writes: ‘Imamate and leadership is a necessity for the human society.’
He has divided politics and management into three categories:
1. Instinctive politics, which is based on the inborn natural desires of human beings. This would lead to cruelty and dictatorship.
2. Rational politics, which is based on the intellectual and scientific findings. This type is superior to the first type, but inferior to the third one.
3. Religious politics, which is based on the religious laws and teachings. In this type of politics, unlike the other two types, human expediency and interest has reacquired their own place, based on which human worldly interests are adjusted. The pioneers of this leadership are two groups of people: the prophets and their successors.
b) The Necessity of Protecting Religion
If we consider the following facts:
a) Divine call to prophethood is not an eternal matter, ended with the last prophet, Muhammad;
b) Human greed and passions cause him to make religious laws deviated to use them for his own interests; and
c) Wrong interpretations of religious laws prepare the ground for deviations in religion,…
Then it will be obvious that under these conditions the religious guidance would be lost and would most likely turn into something that misleads humans.
The Status of Imamate
Question no. 3: Is Imamate among the religious doctrines or praxes? What are the Sunnite and Shiite views on this?
In Shiite scholar’s view, based on some transmitted texts and some rational reasons, Imamate is a theological and doctrinal matter. In this view, the philosophy behind calling the prophets to prophethood is the same as the philosophy for nominating Imams by Allah, the latter being the continuation of the former. The following results would come up of this view:
1. As Imam is the Prophet’s successor, he must be superior to all people in moral virtues and perfections. He must enjoy infallibility and far-reaching knowledge.
2. People have no role in selecting and nominating an Imam. He must be chosen and nominated by Allah who is the only authority qualified here.
Most Sunnites regard Imamate as a subsidiary issue falling in the category of the precepts on praxis. Imām al-Haramayn Juwaynī, Ghazālī, Sayfuddīn Āmudī, Taftāzānī, and some others have all stated this point explicitly. However, there are others such as Qādī Bayzāwī and Allāma Asad Wushnī who regard Imamate as a principle of religious doctrine.
According to Sunnite view, Imamate is a normal non-divine post, and thus it is quite conventional and worldly, out of divine realm. In this view, there is no comprehensive and lucid standard on Imam’s qualifications or on how he must be nominated. We will return to this point later.
Imamate and the Last Prophet
Question no. 4: What is the relationship between Imamate and Muhammad’s being the last prophet? Are these two inconsistent?
Imamate is not inconsistent with the status of the last prophet; rather, it is one of the necessary conditions for the last prophet’s religion. To be clear, we must first deal with the meanings of ‘being the last prophet’, ‘Imamate’, and then the functions of the Prophet and Imams.
The Last Prophet
The end of prophethood and legislation in Islam means that no other prophet will be called to prophetic mission after the Prophet Muhammad, and no other religion will replace Islam.
The Quran calls the Prophet Muhammad as the last one and says, ‘Muhammad is not the father of any man among you; but he is the messenger of Allah and the last prophet’.
The prophetic traditions have explicitly stated this very notion. Among them is the tradition known as Hadīth Manzilat, where the Prophet tells Imam Ali, ‘You are to me as Aeron to Moses, except that there will be no prophet after me.’
This means, therefore, that Islam will be everlasting, inextinguishable, and immutable up to the end of the human life on the earth. Accordingly, no religion other than Islam is acceptable for Allah.
In theological terms, Imamate means ‘succeeding the Prophet in headship and general leadership of the nation in both religious and worldly affairs and protecting religion in a way that following Imam is an obligation for the whole nation’.
The Prophet’s Functions
All Muslims agree that the Holy Prophet would play various functions. Among them are the followings:
1. Receiving and transmitting the revelation: this is the very basic function of all prophets and the prophetic essence. The Quran has stressed on such a mission for all prophets, especially the Holy Prophet of Islam.
2. Explaining and interpreting the revelation: it is among the duties of all prophets to explain revealed divine teachings to the people and resolve any disagreements in understanding religion. In this regard, the Quran says, ‘…and we have revealed to you the Book that you may explain to mankind what have been revealed for them…’.
The Holy Quran regards the prophet’s infallible interpretation of the religion as a means for resolving any disagreements and the ultimate authority.
3. Authority and leading the nation: among the Prophet’s functions was establishing the Islamic state and the major leadership and management of the society under the divine laws. The Quran deals with various aspects of this issue, stressing on the people’s obedience to the Prophet in political, social and economic matters.
Now, we must see in what the Prophet acts as the last prophet; then we may decipher the relationship between Imamate and ‘the end of prophethood’.
Certainly, what ends in prophethood is the very essence of it; that is ‘receiving and transmitting the divine revelations’. Thus, the end of prophethood is just for the first function, and has nothing to do with the other functions. On the other hand, Imamate is the continuation of the Prophet’s role in two other spheres – explaining and interpreting religion as well as management and leadership of the Muslim society. Therefore:
Firstly, there is no contradiction between ‘end of the prophethood’ and Imamate.
Secondly, Imamate is a necessary condition for the ‘end of prophethood’. Since religious legislation has been completed and the duty of religious guidance has been relegated to religious scholars, there is no need for another call to prophetic mission; however, there is a demanding need for Imam in the post-Prophet nation.
Mortedā Motahharī writes, ‘Imam is an authority for resolving disagreements, and a standard for resolving differences whose source are the scholars themselves’. In other words, when the religious scholars occupy the position for propagation, inference and interpretation of religion, this would necessarily result in a variety of inconsistent understandings, attitudes and interpretations of religion; without an authority who enjoys infallibility in understanding and explaining religion, disagreements among people would not disappear. Therefore, durability and permanence of Islam is contingent upon Imamate; hence, In the Quran’s view, Imamate is one of the important kingpins of Islam and the precondition for its perfection.
Imamate in Sunnite and Shiite View
Question no. 5: What is the Disagreement on Imamate among the Shiites and Sunnites? What is the source of this disagreement?
Despite the fact that both Shiites and Sunnites regard Imamate as an essential and indispensible affair, and both have a similar definition for Imamate, there are fundamental differences between their views, which shows different identities under the same name. The major differences are as follows:
A) Difference in Imamate’s Functions
For Shiites, Imamate is the continuation of the prophethood of Muhammad; and for Sunnites, it is just a theory for governance. For both Shiites and Sunnites, the Prophet enjoyed three positions:
a) Receiving and transmitting the prophetic revelation;
b) Infallible explanation of the revelation;
c) Governance and major management of the Islamic society.
For both groups, the prophetic revelation was ended forever after the prophet’s departure and nobody can enjoy that position; but what about the other two positions? For Shiites, those two positions are also reserved for someone determined by Allah. Such a person, just as the Prophet himself, is the religious authority for all Muslims with his own sayings and deeds. On the one hand, he is an infallible authority who unites and reconciles contradictory views. On the other hand, he is the leader and the ruler of the Islamic society and his orders in political and social affairs must necessarily be followed by all Muslims.
Moreover, most Imami Shiites considers Imam as a perfect human being with inward authority and a medium for divine emanation and blessings. This very stage of Imamate, borrowed by mystics from Shiites, is the pink of Imamate conception.
Allāma Tabātabā’ī, having stated that there is a vivid and dynamic inward aspect called Wilāyat (i.e. authority and wardenship) behind the apparent face of life and religious precepts, holds that religious precepts are not conceivable without an inward reality; and what suggests the necessity and viability of prophethood and religious laws also suggests the necessity and viability of the institution of Wilāyat.
He continues as follows: ‘…the one who is the agent for proximity to Allah and the caravan leader for people of Wilāyat, who preserves the relationship of humanity with this reality, is called Imam by the Quran’.
For Shiites, then, Imam has three basic functions:
a) Political and social leadership;
b) Religious authority;
c) Inward Wilāyat
For Sunnites, Imamate does not enjoy the second and third functions. They believe in Imamate just as the political and social leadership.
B) Difference in Status
Imamate’s status is also different for Shiites and Sunnites. For Shiites, Imamate is a theological matter pertaining to the relationship between human beings and God. For Sunnites, however, it is just a subsidiary matter pertaining to the Muslims’ religious duties.
Nominating Imams by Allah is a divine grace – just as the call to prophethood – which aims at His servants’ being willingly more aware of their obligations and performing those obligations as well as the ultimate reception of divine graces and blessings.
C) Difference in Source of Legitimacy
In Shiites’ view, the source of legitimacy of Imamate is the divine nomination, just as the call to prophethood is not a worldly affair and only Allah knows who deserves receiving and transmitting His message and performing divine mission. The Quran says, ‘Allah knows best with whom to place His mission’. In the same way, just Allah knows who deserves continuing the Prophet’s path in explaining the religious precepts infallibly, inward Wilāyat on people and leadership of the nation according to the pure teachings of Islam.
On the contrary, the Sunnites hold that Imamate is a worldly affair, not a celestial one. The criteria for choosing Imams, for Sunnites, are a matter to discuss in detail later on.
D) Difference in Conditions
For Shiites, Imam must enjoy infallibility and knowledge of all religious facts, teachings and laws; he is the supreme human authority in all human perfections, especially those pertaining to Imamate and leadership. For Sunnites, however – despite the fact that they regard Imamate as the governance in religious and worldly affairs – infallibility and superiority is not a necessary condition. Rather, some Sunnite scholars such as Abū Ya’lā and Taftāzānī even do not regard knowledge of religious affairs and justice – which are the least conditions for religious governance – as necessary conditions for Imamate, thus affirming the legitimacy of imamate of a vicious person or an ignorant one.
No doubt, such an attitude would lead to instrumental use of imamate by tyrants and ignorant persons. The history of Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties are good examples of governments established with such an attitude.
E) Difference in Instance
In view of what was stated up to now, instances of Imams are clearly different for Shiites and Sunnites. This is because the qualifications believed by Shiites as necessary conditions of an Imam are not found in Sunnite religious leaders, and the Sunnites themselves do not claim that their leaders enjoy such qualifications. The only instances of those persons enjoying qualifications commonly accepted by both Shiites and Sunnites are Imam Ali and Imam Hassan in their short period of their caliphate.
Hereditary or Democratic Regime
Question no. 6: A Sunnite friend of mine says, ‘Imamate in Shiism is a hereditary system, but in Sunnism it is a democratic one’; what is the answer to such a claim?
The abovementioned claim is neither consistent with imamate in Shiite view nor with Sunnite view, because:
I. The mere existence of Imamate in the Prophet’s progeny does not mean a hereditary system, because in the royal family hereditary system there is no criterion other than the family relation for someone to be selected as the king; but the Shiite imamate is a system of leadership of qualified persons. For Shiites, Imamate is a divine post and Imams enjoy conditions determined in the religious law such as infallibility, divine knowledge, divine legitimacy, and definite nomination by Allah. Besides, Imam is not just the political leader; rather, he is the religious authority with inner and spiritual Wilāyat.
II. When we speak of democracy, we must specify the type of democracy we speak of, because democracy is divided into different types as follows:
A) In one classification, democracy is divided into two types: content democracy and methodic democracy. The former is in contradiction with Islam and Islamic government, and is rejected by both Shiites and Sunnites, because here the public will is superior to Islamic laws, and would be enforceable if approved. This form is rejected by the Quran and the Prophet’s saying which says, ‘There is no worship for the people in disobeying their creator’.
B. The methodic democracy is related to the method of producing, transferring and acquiring the political power. This form is nearer to Shiite concept of Imamate than the Sunnite one. It is worth noting that nomination by Allah entails the necessity of obeying the Imam and is not a justification for dictatorship and misuse of power.
Imam Ali says, “The Prophet told me ‘Oh Son of Abu Tālib! The wardenship of my nation is on you. If the people entrusted the power to you with consent and consensus, take over their headship; but if they had some other opinion, leave them to themselves’”.
The followings are resulted from the above account:
1. Imam Ali was nominated as the warden by the Prophet, so his wardenship was not dependent on the people’s opinion.
2. The real exertion of wardenship or the political power by Imam Ali was realized after the people accepted it freely and willingly. Therefore, although it is incumbent on the society to prepare the conditions for taking over the political power by the Infallible Imam and obey him, Imam would take over the power only if the public opinion accepts him, not through dictatorial force or deception. Accordingly, just two of the Shiite Imams, i.e. Imam Ali and Imam Hassan, took over the political power and governed the society after they gained the people’s allegiance.
3. Imamate took another form in Sunnism. They made Imamate void of its celestial and divine nature, making it somehow secular.
However, as to the mechanisms for establishing, exerting and transferring the political power, the Sunnite thought is very inconsequent without any comprehensive principle or theory for determining the Imam and ruler. It has always changed in proportion to the status quo to justify the existing governments. This led to justifying and supporting the corruption of the royal-hereditary governments of Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.
From the historical point of view, the first caliph overcame in the struggle between Muhājirs and Ansārs in the Saqīfa event, taking over the power through allegiance of the following five people: Asīd bin Hudayr, Bashīr bin Sa’d, Umar bin Khattāb, Salim (a slave freed by Abū Hanīfa) and Abū ‘Ubayda Jarrāh. This became the basis for political legitimacy in Sunnism. Afterwards, Abūbakr, the first caliph, nominated Umar bin Khattāb as the second caliph, and this made the nomination by the previous caliph a legitimate basis for determining a caliph. The third caliph, Uthmān, was nominated as the caliph by a board of nominators, and this became the third basis of political legitimacy of a ruler. Imam Ali, in addition to having been nominated by Allah, was selected by the people as the fourth caliph after Uthman, and this made people’s selection the fourth basis of political legitimacy of a ruler. After Imam Ali, Imam Hassan gained the people’s allegiance, but Mu’āwiyya took the power by winning the war. Accordingly, force and dominance were recognized as the bases for political legitimacy among the Sunnites. Mu’āwiyya turned caliphate into a hereditary monarchy by nominating his son, Yazīd, as the crown prince. This practice was adopted by Umayyad and Abbasid rulers as another basis of legitimacy of a ruler, which was accepted by the Sunnites. The hereditary monarchy is now the current form of government in some of the Arabic-Islamic countries. This form of government was legitimized just among Sunnites, not for Shiites.
The views presented by some prominent Sunnite scholars in this regard are worth mentioning here:
Qādī Abū Ya’lā (d. 458 AH) writes:
Imamate can also be obtained through force and coercion, and there is no need to have an election or contract. Thus, if someone takes over the power by using sword, he would be called Amir al-Mumenīn; and those who believe in God and the Judgment Day must necessarily obey him as their leader and Imam, whether he is vicious or virtuous; he is Amir al-Mumenīn and it is incumbent upon all to obey him.
As to another leader who fights for seizing the power, Abū Ya’lā writes:
Friday Prayer and its sermon are dedicated to the winner, because Abdullah bin Umar would say his prayer in congregation with people of Medina on the incident of Harra, and would say, ‘we are with the one who overcomes’.
Imam al-Haramayn Juwaynī (d. 478 AH), one of the prominent Ash’arī scholars, holds that:
In the contract of imamate, consensus is not a necessary condition. Rather, Imamate is realized without such a consensus, because Abū Bakr had gained the position of imamate before the Prophet’s companions received the news of his imamate in all parts of the Islamic territory. Therefore, in imamate there is no need to consensus in the Muslim nation, and there is no fixed or determined number in the members of the group who sign the imamate contract or select the imam. So imamate is realized even by just one member of such a group.
Qurtubī (d. 671 AH) writes:
If only one of the authorities trusted by people introduces and nominates an imam, this would be enough to make it incumbent upon people to select him as well. This is because Umar declared allegiance to Abū Bakr individually.
In his book entitled Sharh-ul Maqāsid, Sa’duddīn Taftāzānī writes:
Anyone who claims to be imam and takes over the power forcibly, even though he may be ignorant or licentious, imamate is realized for him… it is incumbent upon Muslims to obey this imam as long as he says nothing against the religious law, whether he is a just person or a tyrant.
The above quotation reflects three points in Taftāzānī’s view:
1. The method of determining imam: One way to nominate one as imam is his own claim to be imam and seizing the power forcibly;
2. Conditions of imam: It is not necessary for imam to be just and knowledgeable. Even an ignorant or licentious person can become imam;
3. Obeying imam is obligatory as long as he is not saying anything against religious law, whether he is just or tyrant.
Imamate in the Quran
The Verse Wilāyat
Question no. 7: What is the verse Wilāyat? Was it revealed about Imam Ali? What is the Sunnite view on this verse?
The verse Wilāyat says, ‘Verily your wardens are only Allah, his Messenger and those who believe [in Allah], who establish worship and pay the poor due while they bow down [in prayer]’.
The Cause of Revelation
Many Sunnite transmitters and commentators have held that the abovementioned verse was revealed on Imam Ali. Allāma Amīnī has quoted related traditions from 20 Sunnite books, citing the sources for each.
Among these is what Abū Ishāq Tha’labī has quoted – in his exegesis – from Abūzar Qifārī (one of the Prophet’s companions) as the eye witness:
One day I was saying my prayer with the Prophet. Someone requested financial help, but no one helped him. He raised his hands, saying ‘Oh God! Behold that I requested help in your Prophet’s mosque but no one helped me’. Ali was bowing down in his prayer. He pointed to the ring in the little finger of his right hand. The begging person came to him and got the ring before the Prophet’s eyes. Then the Prophet raised his head toward the sky and said, “Oh God! My brother Moses requested you to widen his chest and nominate his brother Aeron as his vizier, his support and his partner in his mission. And You told him, ‘Soon I’ll strengthen you with your brother and will make you victorious’. Oh God! I’m Muhammad your Prophet and chosen Messenger. Widen my chest and make my mission easy and nominate Ali as my vizier, supporting me by him”. Immediately the angel Gabriel came down and asked the Prophet to read the verse, ‘Verily your wardens are only Allah, his Messenger and those who believe [in Allah], who establish worship and pay the poor due while they bow down [in prayer]’.
Therefore, there is no doubt that the verse has been revealed about Imam Ali. Some hold that consecutive and recurrent traditions have been transmitted from both Shiites and Sunnites in this regard.
1. The word ‘innamā’ in this verse suggests a kind of restriction; in other words, it refers to something unique.
2. The word ‘walī’ in this verse refers to a ruler and a warden enjoying authority in all affairs.
3. The phrase ‘alladhīna āmanū’ (‘those who believe’) refers to Imam Ali as mentioned before.
Consequently, the verse says that the only one with authority and the right to govern the Muslims is Allah, with the Prophet and Imam Ali as His representatives. It restricts this authority to Allah, His Prophet and Imam Ali, rejecting any other authority along with them. Accordingly, this verse refers to Imam Ali’s Imamate and authority immediately after the Prophet.
The Sunnite View
Most Sunnites hold that the abovementioned verse has nothing to do with Imamate. The major objections posed by them are as follows:
The first objection: the word ‘walī’ in this verse means friend and helper, not a warden, ruler or someone with authority in all affairs.
1. Many lexicographers have regarded the ‘warden’ and ‘responsible’ as the meanings of the word walī. One of them is Rāghib Isfahānī who writes:
‘Walāyat means helping, but wilyāt means ruling or wardenship. It is said that wilāyat and walāyat have the same relationship as dilālat and dalālat. Its real meaning is ‘wardenship’; walī and mawlā are used in the same semantic sphere’.
Ibn Athīr writes, ‘Walī means helper, and anyone who undertakes to do something would be its mawlā and walī’. He then writes, ‘The same is true for the Prophet’s saying man kuntu malwlāh fa hādhā Aliun mawlā; and so is what Umar said addressing Ali that ‘you are the mawlā for any believer, i.e. you are the walī of all believers’.
The author of Sihāh al-Lugha writes, ‘Anybody who takes over the directorship of someone’s affairs will be his walī’.
In Maqā’īs al-Lugha, it is written that ‘Anybody who manages someone’s affairs will be his walī’.
2. There are evidences that one cannot regard the word walī as the friend or helper. One of them is the word innamā used for ‘restriction’, which restricts the wilāya to Allah, the Prophet and Imam Ali; if wilāya meant friendship or helping, restriction would be meaningless and inconsistent with other verses which regard all believers as helpers of one another.
The second objection: If the verse refers to Imam Ali, why the related word (alladhīna, meaning ‘those who’…) has been used in the plural form?
1. Such usages are frequently used in Arabic in general and in the Quran in particular. As an example, the Quran says, ‘They say: surely, if we return to Medina, the mightier will soon drive out the weaker; might belongs Allah, his Messenger and the believers, but the hypocrites do not know’. There is a consensus among commentators that the person saying these words was Abdullah bin Ubay, the head of the hypocrites, while the verb yaqūlūna (‘they say’) in the plural form appears in the verse.
2. In the Wilāyat verse, the phrase alladhīna āmanū is in the plural form; however, it refers to Imam Ali in reality. As to the reason, both Shiite and Sunnite commentators have stated three probabilities as follows:
a) Encouraging others to acquire such virtues;
b) Showing respect for Imam Ali;
c) Preventing the sense of jealousy towards Imam Ali.
In this regard, we only refer to what Zimakhsharī, one of the prominent Sunni commentators, has stated:
This verse has been reveled on Ali, and the phrase alladhīna āmanū is in the plural form (although refers to a single man) because the Quran wants to encourage people to do the same thing, stressing that it is incumbent upon the believers to acquire such virtues and try to help the needy persons anyway, to the extent that they may not postpone it even by saying their prayer.
The third objection: How could Imam Ali notice what a needy person requested while he did not notice – on another occasion – those who took out an arrow from his leg as he was saying prayer?
1. Paying alms in the prayer is a virtue praised by God in the Quran, so we may not consider it as a barrier between the person saying his prayer and God. Rather, just those worldly affairs with no connection to God may prevent one from paying all his attention to his prayer.
2. Divinely saints enjoy different states and ranks. In other words, though they pay permanent attention to Allah, this inner attention has different states and degrees. In this regard, religious master, Mutahharī, refers to the Prophet’s states and says the Prophet would sometimes be so eager to say his prayer that he would say, ‘Bilāl! Hurry up to call for prayer’. Sometimes, his grandsons, Hussein and Hassan would get on his shoulder while he was prostrating, and he would wait for them to get off.
3. From a mystical point of view, when Imam Ali paid the alms in his prayer, he was in a more perfect state of attention than the time when they took out the arrow and he did not notice; because in a more perfect state of attention, the person would observe the entire universe while speaking with God attentively.
In other words, we may assume three states here:
a) The state in which the man neglects God because of paying attention to other creatures. This is the usual state of many human beings in their daily life. In this state, paying attention to other creatures would hinder paying attention to God.
b) The state in which the man neglects other creatures because of paying attention to God only. In this state, paying attention to God would hinder paying attention to other creatures. This is a state of imperfect divine attraction.
c) The state of perfect attraction and absorption. Here, there would be no barrier between the person and God, and he would pay attention to both God and the entire universe. This is a complete attention encompassing everything. This is exactly what the Quran describes as Imam Ali’s state. Here, saying one’s prayer and paying alms join together as two great forms of worship.
The fourth objection: If the abovementioned verse refers to Imam Ali’s Imamate and caliphate, why didn’t he himself adduce it as a proof for his own Imamate?
Imam Ali has adduced this verse as proof for his Imamate in several occasions. The followings are among them:
a) Imam addressed Abū Bakr and said, ‘swear by God! Was religious authority proved for you on the occasion of giving the ring as alms or for me?’ He replied, ‘verily, for you’.
b) In the council appointed by Umar bin Khattāb for choosing the caliph succeeding him, while he appointed Abdur-Rahmān bin Awf, his own son-in-law as the director of the council, Imam Ali referred to the same verse before all the members of the council and said, ‘Is there anyone among you other than me who gave alms while bowing in prayer and about whom the verse Wilāyat was revealed?’; they all replied, ‘no, certainly not’.
3. On the war of Siffayn, Imam Ali referred to different verses, including the verse Wilāyat, before the people present there, and this was attested by a group of the worriers of Badr Battle.
The Verse of Uli-l Amr
Question no. 8: How does the verse ‘Oh you who believe! Obey Allah, his Messenger, and those of you who are in authority…’ prove Imam Ali’s immediate succession of the Prophet – as the Shiite say?
The abovementioned verse, known as the verse of Uli-l amr, is one of the Quranic citations frequently adduced to by Shiites as the proof for Imam Ali’s religious authority. First of all, we must know who are meant by the phrase uli-l amr (‘those who are in authority’) in this holy verse. To do so, we must answer the following questions:
a) Does the verse provide a criterion for identifying those who are in authority?
b) If a certain criterion is provided, to whom can it be applied?
1. The Criterion for Uli-l Amr
At a glance, especially for those who are not familiar with the Quran’s logics and methodology, it may seem that the verse does not provide any criterion on the qualities of the uli-l amr. Upon a more precise scrutiny, however, the notions mentioned in that verse shows infallibility as the most important criterion for those in authority. But how can we infer this from the above verse?
We must note the fact that in this verse, obeying the uli-l amr has been clearly equaled to obeying God and the Prophet without any qualifications. So they must be infallible to be obeyed by all people.
If, however, the uli-l amr were prone to faults and sins, would this kind of obedience be wise? Here, two assumptions are possible:
a) The first assumption is that obedience is absolutely obligatory. In this case, there arise some difficulties: firstly, it contradicts the Islam’s basic motto: ‘There is no obedience to a creature if its prerequisite is disobedience of the Creator’.
Secondly, it would necessitate obeying two contradictory orders – positive and negative – in the same case: on the one hand, there is the general religious order to the effect that one must refrain from doing a sin; on the other hand, there is the order to the effect that one must obey those who are in authority who may be sinful.
Thirdly, there would be a contradiction between the beginning and the end of the verse: the beginning would necessitate avoiding that unlawful action, and the end of it would necessitate doing it. However, it is impossible to find any contradictions in divine words.
The main issue is that: firstly, there are no provisions in the content of this verse. Secondly, there is no other verse with provisions stated for the content of this verse. So obedience to uli-l amr is absolutely obligatory. This is while in other cases, where its importance is much less, God has immediately stated some provisions. On treating one’s parents, for instance, God says, ‘We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; but if they strive to make you join with me that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them’.
From what we have stated up to this point, it becomes clear that the Quran seeks to open a new way before the society; in other words, it assigns the authority to an infallible leader and solves the problem in a fundamental way. As evidence, the abovementioned verse equals obeying the Prophet to obeying the uli-l amr. Therefore, that holy verse necessitates that the uli-l amr be infallible to be obeyed in the same way as the Prophet is obeyed. This has been accepted by some of the prominent Sunnite commentators, such as Fakhr Rādī; and some have regarded it as one of the issues agreed upon by both Shiites and Sunnites.
2. Identifying the Instances of Uli-l Amr
For Shiites, the uli-l amr after the Prophet are Imam Ali and the other Imams from the Prophet’s Household or Ahl al-Bayt. There are four reasons for this claim:
a) The order to obedience in the verse necessitates the infallibility of the uli-l amr.
b) After the Prophet, the only persons coinciding with the criteria of uli-l amr were the Imams from the Ahl al-Bayt whose infallibility is proven both by some Quranic verses such as the verse Tathīr and by numerous traditions transmitted. All evidences show that the first of them was Imam Ali.
c) No one other than the Ahl al-Bayt claims to be infallible, nor is there an evidence for anyone to be infallible. Therefore, the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt are the only persons conforming to the criteria of the uli-l amr. Accordingly, the abovementioned verse implicitly refers to the necessary obedience to infallible Imams.
d) The traditions interpreting this verse explicitly show that it refers to Imam Ali.
Question no. 9: What is the Sunnite view on the verse of Wilāyat, and how can it be criticized?
The Sunnites are quite in disagreement as to interpreting this verse. Some of them have accepted the verse as denoting the authority of the Infallible Imams, but have discursive views on who are the infallible Imams. One of the following groups may be the uli-l amr:
1. The Orthodox Caliphs;
2. The Prophet’s companions;
3. The army commanders;
4. The Muslim scholars;
5. The kings and rulers;
6. The people of Hill and ‘Aqd, i.e. the rulers, commanders, and those trusted by the whole Muslim nation;
7. The consensus of the Muslim scholars on a certain matter.
1. The first view is not right at all, because the orthodox caliphs, save Imam Ali, were neither infallible nor claiming to be so. Their political and social behavior and the large number of the mistakes they made are also evidences of this.
2. The idea of this verse denoting the infallibility of the Prophet’s companions is also completely rejected, because:
a) There is no evidence for infallibility of the Prophet’s companions.
b) Along with prominent figures such as Salmān, Abūzar, and Miqdād, there were other figures among the companions such as Umayyads who, as the Quran and traditions and the historical accounts witness, were by no means real Muslims and even inflicted great blows to the Islam after they had apparently converted to Islam. Among the latter group were figures such as Abū Sufyān, Mu’āwiyya, and Hakam bin Abī Ās who was banished by the Prophet but were allowed to return to Medina by Uthmān afterwards.
3. The third view is also implicitly rejected by the Quran, because there were figures such as Khālid bin Walīd among the army commanders, who murdered a Muslim called Mālik bin Nuwayra despite giving him refuge, and fornicated with his wife. So, how can that verse with so high notions be applied to such persons?!
4. The fourth view is not right too, because there is no evidence for religious scholars’ infallibility. Disagreements among Muslim scholars are clear evidence for this.
5. The fifth view is proved to be wrong upon referring to history and noticing the inadequacy of most of the rulers.
6. The sixth group, i.e. the people of Hill and ‘Aqd, are no more than the previous groups, and the infallibility of a few members of this group does not mean the infallibility of all such people.
7. The seventh view is also rejected because the mere abundance in number would not bring about infallibility, though it may reduce the probable faults.
Now we conclude that:
- Identifying the infallible Imams requires definite evidences, and the abovementioned groups cannot be acceptable instances of the related criteria.
- There are numerous traditions mentioning Imam Ali as the real instance of the above verse, and there are definite evidences for infallibility of Shiite Imams.
- The Holy Quran has explicitly stated the infallibility of Shiite Imams, inter alia, in the verse Tathīr (= purification), the verse 33 of the chapter Ahzāb.
The Verse Iblāgh
Question no. 10: Is the verse Iblāgh related to Imam Ali’s imamate? How can this be proved?
The verse of Iblāgh reads as follows: ‘Oh Messenger! Make known what have been revealed to you from your Lord. And if you do not do it, you will have not conveyed his message. Allah will protect you from the people. Verily, Allah does not guide the disbelieving folk’.
The above verse is definitely pertaining to Imam Ali’s authority and imamate. This becomes clear by noting two points:
1. Investigating the reason for revelation of that verse;
2. Investigation and evaluation of the contents of the verse.
The Cause of Revelation
There are a lot of traditions, exegeses, and historical works written by Shiite and Sunnite scholars, stating that the above verse has been revealed on Imam Ali’s imamate in Ghadīr event. A lot of the Prophet’s companions have witnessed this, including the following figures: Abū Sa’īd Khidrī, Zayd Arqam, Jābir bin Abdullāh Ansārī, Ibn Abbās, Barā bin Āzib, Huzayfa, Abū Hurayra, Ibn Mas’ūd, and Āmir bin Leylī.
Among the later scholars, the followings have cited and studied this issue in their exegeses and other works: Abū Na’īm Isfahānī, Abul Hassan Wāhidī Neyshābūrī, the Shāfi’ī Ibn Asākir, Fakhr Rādī, Abū Ishāq Humwaynī, the Mālikī Ibn Sabbāgh, Jalāluddīn Suyūtī, Qādī Shūkānī, the Shāfi’ī Shahābuddīn Ālūsī, the Hanafī Sheikh Suleymān Qundūzī, the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, Hāfiz bin Mardawayh, and a lot of other scholars.
Therefore, there is no doubt that the above verse refers to announcement of Imam Ali’s imamate in the Ghadīr event.
The Contents of the Verse
Apart from the evidences for this verse’s relation with Ghadīr event, a brief look at the content of the verse shows that:
Firstly, what has been ordered to be announced was a basic issue equal to the Prophet’s prophetic mission, and giving it up was equal to not accomplishing the divine mission. Thus, it was not a trivial subsidiary issue of religious precept for instance; rather it was something that (a) had not been revealed to the people up to that point; and (b) the Prophet’s mission was dependent on it. Accordingly, it could be only the nomination of a successor who would secure the Prophet’s mission after him.
Secondly, the verse shows that the issue in question was an issue against which some would react hostilely, to the extent that they would plot against the Prophet and his religion. Thus, God assures the Prophet that He will protect him against the plotters. This also shows that the issue in question had nothing to do with subsidiary religious precepts such as prayer, fasting, hajj, etc., especially if we note that the verse was among the last verses revealed. In addition, the historical facts and the later events clearly showed that the only issue arising severe disagreement and objections was that of accepting Imam Ali’s Imamate and authority in particular and that of other Imams in general.
Thirdly, in the last phrase of the verse, we read ‘verily, Allah does not guide the disbelieving folk’. This shows that opposing Imams’ authority and leadership implies some sort of disbelieving, and what was going to be declared by the Prophet was one of the Islam’s kingpins. Accordingly, no commentator has offered anything more important than the infallible imamate as what has been referred to in the above verse.
On the whole, having the above discussions in the mind, we would have no choice other than Imam Ali’s Imamate in the interpretation of that verse.
The Verse Ikmāl
Question no. 11: What is the verse Ikmāl al-Dīn (the perfection of religion)? Is it pertaining to Imam Ali? Why?
The verse Ikmāl reads as follows: ‘…today, those who disbelieve are in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so do not fear them, fear me. Today I have perfected your religion for you and completed my blessings unto you, and have chosen Islam as religion for you.’
1. In the above verse, by today it is meant the 18th of Dhu’l-hijjah, the day of Ghadīr. In various Shiite and Sunnite traditions, it has been stated that this verse was revealed in that day after Imam Ali’s Imamate was announced by the Prophet. Therefore, it is historically related to Imam Ali’s Imamate, especially when we read the tradition citing the Prophet as saying ‘Allahu Akbar! The religion was perfected and God’s blessings were completed and He was pleased with my prophethood and Ali’s authority after me.’
2. Master Murtedā Mutahharī holds that in addition to historical and traditional evidences, there are some clues in the verse itself that indicate its connection with imamate. Among them is the fact that the Quran had always warned the Prophet about the disbelievers’ threats and their conspiracies. In this verse, however, it uses a completely different language to say that there is no need to fear the disbelievers anymore, because they have lost all their hopes, and the threat, if any, is an internal one. Thus, God says, ‘fear me’. This explanation is easily understood if we consider the fact stated in another verse, ‘…verily, Allah does not change the conditions of a nation unless they change themselves…’.
This is a divine rule that if someone is not grateful to his Lord for His blessings, and does not use them rightly, he will be afflicted with Allah’s punishments. So the phrase ‘fear me’ means, indeed, ‘fear yourselves’ for not being grateful for divine blessings, which will bring about an unfortunate destiny for you. Thus from now on the threat would be an internal one not and external one. This shows that:
Firstly, the verse Ikmāl was revealed in the last days of the Prophet’s life.
Secondly, it is related to something that, if rightly paid attention to, will protect Islam and the Muslim nation from the enemies’ threats.
All these are consistent with the verse’s cause of revelation. The treat mentioned in this verse was quite apparent in the Prophet’s concerns during his last days. Both Shiite and Sunnite sources have mentioned the Prophet’s concerns for the future of the Islamic nation and the civil disturbances. Āyisha’s slave, Abu Midla, says:
In the last days of the Prophet’s life, I noticed him going out to Baqī cemetery at midnight. I followed him unnoticed. Then I heard him imploring Allah’s forgiveness for the dead there; then, he addressed them and said, ‘how happy are you who went to hereafter and opened your arms for felicity; now disturbances are approaching just like fractions of a dark night’.
Allāma Tehrānī, adducing explicit verse of the Quran in this regard, says:
What the infidel opposed was Islam itself not the Muslims. The infidels would thought that Islam would disappear after the Prophet’s death; they were, however, disappointed by the strength Islam was gaining and the spread its message experienced. They thought Islam would disappear only if there is no successor for the Prophet after his death, a successor who would manage the society’s affairs and would guide the nation. When they found Islam turned into a public uprising, they were completely disappointed. This is perfection of religion and completion of divine blessings. So there was no reason to fear infidels anymore. Rather, God says, ‘you must fear me’; it means if you were not thankful for this blessing, God would take away His religion so that you would be afflicted with trouble and punishment.’
The Quran and the Imams’ Names
Question no. 12: If the Imamate of the Prophet’s Household is one of the Islam’s kingpins, why have their names not been mentioned in the Quran so that there would be no disagreements and no one would go astray?
To answer this question, we must first scrutinize the Quran’s method in introducing Imam Ali and other Shiite Imams to decipher the secret behind it. In this regard, we may discuss the following points:
1. Person or Personality
Basically, the Quran’s method is to state the principles, rules and standards rather than the minute matters. In regard with the Infallible Imams, especially Imam Ali, the Quran’s method is to introduce their preeminent ‘personality’ and their merits, not the persons. This has many reasons which will be mentioned in the following discussions.
2. The Prophet’s Household in the Quran
In numerous cases, the Quran has revealed the merits and privileges of the Prophet’s Households (Ahl al-Bayt), especially Imam Ali, as far as their personality is concerned. Some of these – such as the verse Wilāyat – were discussed in previous sections.
There are other verses in this regard as well, including the following ones:
a) ‘And they feed the needy, the orphans and the captives for loving Him’. Great Sunnite and Shiite commentators have referred to this verse as a verse revealed about Imam Ali and his household, when they were fasting and gave their food to a needy, an orphan and a captive in three successive nights.
b) ‘Verily, Allah wants to remove impurity from you, the Prophet’s Households, and purifies you thoroughly’.
In the above verse, removing all the impurities means infallibility. Numerous articles and books have been written on this verse. Both Sunnites and Shiites agree that it applies to Imam Ali, Fatima, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussein (PBUT); the only point of disagreement is on applying it to the Prophet’s wives. The Shiite scholars and some of the Sunnites (such as Shāfi’īs) adduce numerous evidences, including the evidences in the verse itself and the previous or next verses, to reject applying it to the Prophet’s wives.
c) In the verse Mubāliha, the Quran introduces Imam Ali as equal to the Prophet’s self.
There are some other verses to this effect as well, which we will not deal with here. Among the abovementioned verses, the first verse refers to self-sacrifice in the pink of one’s needs; the second verse refers to purity from any defect and sin (in other words, ‘infallibility’); and the previously mentioned verses, such as the verse Wilāyat, refers to integration of two great worships along with sincerity and loving God. The verses Wilayat, Iblāgh and Ikmāl refer to Imam Ali’s legal aspect, i.e. his authority.
3. The Quran’s Method of Introducing Personality
As stated before, the Quran introduces personalities rather than persons. Moreover, it has a special method in introducing the personalities of the Prophet’s Household, a method that may be called ‘saying clearly while secretly’. Examples are the verses Tathīr, Iblāgh and Ikmāl where the matters are referred to indirectly, though there are definite evidences – both historical and thematic – that show the verses’ relation with the legal or actual personalities of the Prophet’s Household.
4. The Philosophy of the Quran’s Method
The aforementioned method has numerous reasons, including the following ones:
a) Pointing to persons, in some cases, has nothing to do with illuminations; rather, it may finally lead to some sort of blind adherence. This is not, however, a reason for not introducing persons – in some cases – as well. Nevertheless, introducing personalities is basically to introduce the role models, which would lead the society to rationality, scrutiny and paying attention to standards and real privileges rather than ignorant prejudices.
b) Introducing personalities prepares the ground for accepting rationally, while introducing persons would, in some cases, lead to rejection. This is the best method especially in cases where the person in question has been subject to misrepresentations or the society, for any reason, is not ready to accept him. This is exactly the case for Imam Ali.
To better understand the matter, we must consider the conditions of the Islamic society when the Quranic verses were being revealed. The exact investigation of the matter is out of the scope of the present book; however, we may briefly refer to the fact that except some of the prominent believers, most of the people in the early Islamic period were not ready to accept the Prophet’s Household, especially Imam Ali as their authorities. The Prophet himself would introduce Imam Ali with difficulties on various occasions, and would encounter a negative reaction in each case. There were many reasons for this, including the followings:
1. Most of Imam Ali’s opponents were the previous enemies of Islam; they faced with Imam Ali’s sword and were hostile to him. Her majesty Fatima referred to this as one of the reasons of rejecting Imam Ali.
2. The false ideas of the Days of Ignorance were still dominant, and they would consider notions such as tribal leanings, age, etc in political matters. So, for instance, they rejected Imam Ali’s authority because of his age.
3. The enemies were propagating a dangerous thought to the effect that the Prophet attempts to transfer power to his own family. Accordingly, they would interpret the Prophet’s invaluable services as political games to seize the power for himself and his own household. This idea is reflected in what Jābir bin Nadr or Hārith bin Nu’mān Fihrī said to the Prophet after the event of Ghadīr, as well as in Yazīd’s speeches after Imam Hussein’s martyrdom.
Now, one question arises here: was it reasonable in such a situation to mention Imam Ali’s name and the names of other infallible Imams explicitly in the Quran?
Some may think if the names were mentioned, there would be no disagreements among the Muslims and the Islamic society would unite unanimously because the Quran is accepted by all Muslims. But this is quite wrong, because:
There are some cases in the Quran where in spite of explicit statement of a matter, there have been arisen disagreements among Muslims. One of them is on wiping the foot in minor ablution where the Quran explicitly says, ‘and wipe a part of your heads and your feet up to the ankle.’ However, the Sunnites wash their feet instead of wiping them. This is just an example among many similar cases.
In his book entitled al-Ijtihād wal-Nass, Allāma Kāshif al-Ghitā enumerates seventy cases of the Caliphs’ legal inferences, along with their precise sources, opposing the Quran and the Prophet’s tradition. An investigation of the social circumstances of that time shows it was quite probable that disagreements on the Prophet’s succession would threaten the basis of Islam. If Imam Ali’s name was mentioned in the Quran, a large number of those associates of the Prophet – with their high status in the society and a widespread device of propagation – would deny the Prophet’s truth and the Quran completely for their own interests.
This may appear to be hyperbolic; however, the important historical events have revealed the truth. Here, one example will suffice:
According to prominent historians, the Prophet, in the last days of his life, asked for a pen and tablet to write a document and leave it for the Muslims so that they would never go astray after his death.
The goal of this request was quite clear for the Prophet’s associates. Umar bin Khattāb, the future second caliph, called out, ‘the man has gone into delirium!’ This was despite the fact that the Quran says, ‘…nor does he (the Prophet) speaks of his own desire. It is nothing but an inspiration inspired’. However, the Prophet was accused of delirium and the situation was so threatening that he was forced to relinquish his request.
Umar bin Khattāb said to Ibn Abbās, ‘we did not choose Ali for the good of Islam’. Whether he spoke sincerely or not is another discussion. However, what he said shows that the Quraysh were displeased of having Imamate in the Prophet’s family.
In this regard, Master Mutahharī writes:
Among the divine orders, no order had a less chance to be enforced than the order related to Imam Ali’s Imamate. This was because prejudices dominating the society would not allow it to be enforced. It was probable that the prophet’s order would be disobeyed. While the Prophet would receive divine orders on Ali, he was always anxious that those dissenters whose threat is repeatedly mentioned in the Quran would negatively propagate against the Prophet for trusting offices to his own relatives. However, the Prophet would avoid appropriating prerogatives to his own family. Perhaps the secret of the Quran’s speaking clearly and at the same time implicitly is that on the one hand the aforementioned verses contain signs and evidences for unbiased individuals to understand their references to the Prophet’s Household, and on the other hand, the verses try to state the facts in a way that those who are ready to disobey the orders would not oppose the Quran and Islam overtly.
Imamate in the Prophetic Tradition
Question no. 13: What has the Prophet said on Imam Ali’s Imamate and authority? On the whole, how much has the Prophet spoken of this issue?
The way the Prophet dealt with Ali’s Imamate is among the most important issues to be investigated. Here, some points are mentioned briefly:
1. On many occasions, the Prophet would treat Ali in a special way; among them are the followings:
a) In the battlefields, he would often nominate Ali as the commander.
b) On his departure for the battle of Tabūk, he nominated Ali as his own deputy in Medina.
c) In delivering the message of the chapter Barā’at to the polytheists, he made Abū Bakr return on halfway and relegated this mission to Ali.
d) In his last days, he stressed on anyone leaving the city and joining Usāma’s army, cursing upon those who may disobey. However, he exempted Ali from this order so that he could transfer the power to Ali without any dispute and struggle.
e) On the day of Mubāhila, he took Ali as one of his close associates.
f) Among all the Muslims, he concluded a brotherhood contract with Ali.
g) On different occasions, he would utter the highest words on praising Ali and his unique virtues.
There are numerous occasions like these, all denoting the high status of Imam Ali for the Prophet and his qualifications for highest positions in line with protecting Islam, religious and political leadership, and management of the Islamic society.
2. On different occasions, the Prophet called caliphate and Imamate a basically divine affair and the Imam a divinely nominated person. Among them are the followings:
a) The hadith on rejecting a request to caliphate; Ibn Hishām writes in his Sīra, “when the Prophet was in Mecca and the situation was difficult, the head of a tribe said to him ‘I and my tribe are ready to believe in you on the condition that you promise to nominate one of us as your successor.’ The Prophet replied, ‘I cannot nominate my successor; it is at God’s disposal.’”
3. From the first stages of his invitation and declaring his prophetic mission, the Prophet explicitly mentioned Ali as his own successor. In the first meeting when he, commanded by God, gathered all his relatives to declare his mission, he addressed them and said, ‘…this young man (Ali) is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you. Listen to his commands and obey him.’
4. There are a lot of reliable traditions transmitted from the Prophet on Imam Ali’s authority and caliphate. These have emphasized Imam Ali’s authority explicitly on various occasions. Some of them are as follows:
a) The hadith of Manzilat: based on consecutive transmissions by Sunnites and Shiites, the Prophet addressed Imam Ali and said, ‘you are to me as Aeron to Moses, except that there is no prophet after me.’ By this, the Prophet meant Imam Ali enjoyed all Aeron’s positions except the prophethood. Thus, just as Aeron was Moses’ helper and successor, Ali was also the Prophet’s helper and successor.
b) The hadith of Laylat al-Inzār: This was the hadith stated on the first meeting when the Prophet’s mission was declared. In that hadith, the Prophet referred to Ali as his trustee and successor.
c) The hadith on Commandment (Amra al-Mu’minīn): This hadith has been transmitted under the hadith of Ghadīr. There, the Prophet said to his companions, ‘Salute Ali as the commander of the believers.’
d) The hadith on caliphate: The Prophet addressed Ali and said, ‘you are the Caliph after me.’
e) and f) The hadith of Thaqalayn and the hadith of Ghadīr: these two hadiths are mostly privileged and famous. Accordingly, they will be discussed later in next sections.
g) The hadiths on twelve Imams: Numerous hadiths have been transmitted in Shiite and Sunnite sources, quoting the Prophet as saying the Imams are twelve. Among them is the following hadith:
Imam al-Haramayn on the authority of Ibn Abbās, quotes the Prophet as saying, ‘I am the lord of the Prophets and Ali is the lord of my trustees. The trustees after me are twelve; the first is my brother and the last is my scion.’ They asked the Prophet, ‘who is your brother?’ He replied, ‘Ali bin Abī Tālib.’ They asked, ‘who is your scion?’ He replied, ‘Mahdī; he is the person who fills the world with justice, just as it is filled with injustice and oppression.’
h) The hadith of Wisāyat: In numerous hadiths, the Prophet introduced Ali as his wasī (i.e. his trustee). In one of them we read, ‘Any prophet has a trustee and heir, and Ali is my trustee and heir’.
i) The hadith of Wizārat: In various hadiths, the Prophet has called Ali as his vizier. According to one tradition, the Prophet, in his Ascension journey, asked the Gabriel, ‘Oh Gabriel! Who is my vizier?’ And Gabriel replied, ‘Ali bin Abī Talib.’
There are other hadiths in this regard, which are not mentioned here.
The Hadith of Thaqalayn
Question no. 14: What does the hadith of Thaqalayn say? How does it prove the Imamate of Imam Ali and other Shiite Imams?
The hadith (or hadiths) of Thaqalayn is among the consecutive hadiths agreed upon by both Shiites and Sunnites. It shows the everlasting strategy of following the Quran and the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt (i.e. his Household). The Prophet’s emphases and the way he would speak of the matter leave no doubt as to the result. In view of the widespread transmission of this hadith in Sunnite sources, we limit ourselves to mentioning it from those sources.
According to Muslim’s Sahīh, the Prophet said, ‘Oh people! Verily, I am a human being whose death is approaching; I leave two invaluable things among you: the first is God’s Book and the second is my own Household.’
According to Ahmad’s Musnad, the Prophet said, ‘Verily, I leave two successors among you; one of whom is greater: God’s Book, the string between the heavens and the earth, and [the other is] my own Household. These two are inseparable until they come to me at the Pool of Kawthar. ’
In Tirmizī’s Sunan, the Prophets has been quoted as saying, ‘Oh people! I leave among you something that if you adhere to it, you’ll never go astray; one of them is the divine Book, the Quran, and the other is my own Household.’
The followings are concluded from what the Prophet has said:
1. The Prophet’s Household is an invaluable asset.
The Meccan Ibn Hajar writes, ‘God’s Messenger called the Quran and his Household Thaqlayn. Thaqal is any invaluable and precious thing, and the Quran and the Prophet’s Household are such things because each of them is the repository of divine knowledge and mysteries. Because of this, the Prophet advised people to adhere to them.’
2. The infallibility and authority of the Prophet’s Household.
Mentioning the Quran and the Prophet’s Household alongside one another and emphasizing the necessity to follow them and their being inseparable are two clear signs denoting the infallibility of the Prophet’s Household. This is because the Quran is the infallible divine Book, and being sinful and impure anyway would cause a separation with the Quran.
The Egyptian scholar and author, Towfīq Abū A’lam, writes, ‘The Prophet has put his own Household beside the Quran, a book with no false ideas appearing in it. And these two will never separate. Clearly, any disagreements with Islamic laws would cause anybody to separate from the Quran, while the Prophet has called these two inseparable. Therefore, the abovementioned hadith clearly denotes the infallibility of the Prophet’s Household. And the Prophet, repeating that hadith on various occasions, sought to protect his nation, ordering them to adhere to those two, so that they may not go astray in various affairs including doctrine and praxis.’
Ayatollah Makārim also holds that, ‘The Prophet’s Households are infallible because their inseparability from the Quran on the one hand and the necessity to follow them on the other hand are clear evidences for their being infallible and immune from error and sin. Because if they committed sins or made mistakes, they would separate from the Quran and following them would not save people from going astray. And when God says you are immune from going astray by following them, this is clear evidence for their infallibility.’
3. Durability up to the Day of Resurrection
The inseparability [from the Quran] up to the Pool of Kawthar shows that the Prophet was to set an everlasting strategy for his nation and that there are leaders and guides from the Prophet’s progeny among the Muslims.
Ibn Hajar writes, ‘This hadith shows there are persons from the Prophet’s Household along with the Quran who deserve being followed up to the Resurrection just as the Quran itself does.’
Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī also writes, ‘This clearly shows that in the course of the Islamic history, there is always some person from the Prophet’s Household who is the people’s guide just as the Quran is. So they must be sought to be found in any age.’
4. The necessity to follow both
That the Prophet insisted on adhering to both the Quran and his Household shows the necessity to follow both, regarding any attempt to separate those two as going astray. Allāma Manāwī says, ‘This hadith refers implicitly or rather explicitly to the fact that the Quran and the Prophet’s Household are like a twin introduced by him to be treated well by his nation after him, to be prioritized over the Muslims themselves and to be adhered to in religious matters.’ What is important here is that the Prophet has insisted on his nation’s following his Household forever, regarding his Household as infallible as the Holy Quran; they are guides always present alongside with the Quran to guide the Muslims.
5. Who are the Prophet’s Households?
On different occasions, the Prophet introduced his Household (Ahl al-Bayt) and the Imams among them. Umar bin Khattāb asked him, ‘must we obey all your Ahl al-Bayt?’ the Prophet replied, ‘no, but you must obey the Owsiyā (i.e. the trustees) among them. The first among them is my brother, my vizier, my heir and my vicegerent in my nation and the one who is the authority for all the believers (Imam Ali); after him, my son, Hassan and then Hussein; then nine of Hussein’s scions, one after another.’ So the abovementioned hadith clearly proves the necessity to follow and obey Ahl al-Bayt, and the head of them, Imam Ali, introducing them as the greatest religious authority along with the Quran and equal with it.
Question no. 15: In the hadith of Thaqalayn, some read ‘kitāballāh wa itratī’ and some others read ‘kitāballāh wa sunnatī’; which one is correct?
Hadith of Thaqalayn has been transmitted in both forms. In this regard, some points are worth mentioning:
1. Those traditions with the phrase ‘kitāballāh wa sunnatī’ have mostly been transmitted with no authority or there are some figures such as Ismā’īl bin Uways, Sālih bin Musā Talhī, and Sayf bin Umar Tamīmī in their chain of authority; these persons have been referred to as weak authorities by the Sunnite scholars. On the other hand, the phrase ‘kitāballāh wa itratī’ has been transmitted consecutively, while ‘kitāballāh wa sunnatī’ is a single transmission.
2. There is no problem with the Prophet’s saying this hadith in both forms on different occasions; because just as the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt play the role of religious authorities after him, his Sunnah is also an important religious source and an authority for all. Therefore, such traditions are not contradictory; rather, they are completely consistent. The reliability of the Prophet’s Sunnah and Ahl al-Bayt as the interpreters of the Quran along with it is the very matter stressed on by the Shiites.
The Event of Ghadīr
Question no. 16: Would you please explain the event of Ghadīr and the degree of its certainty?
In the tenth year of ‘call to prophethood’, the Prophet decided to go to Hajj, and proclaimed his decision. A large number of Muslims came to Medina to perform their Hajj with him. That pilgrimage has been variously called Hajjat al-Widā’, Hajjat al-Islām, Hajjat al-Balāgh, and Hajjat al-Kamāl. From his hijra to Medina up to his death, the Prophet had not performed any other hajj. He exited from Medina five or six days before Dhul-hijjah. Then, the Muslims performed the rites of hajj and Umra under the Prophet’s direction. After pilgrimage, he was bound for Medina with the crowd of Muslims accompanying him. On Thursday, 18th of Dhul-hijjah, they arrived at Ghadīr-e Khum in an area called Juhfa. There, the Gabriel came and revealed the 67th verse of Mā’ida (chapter 5 of the Quran). The verse reads as follows: ‘O Messenger! Make known what has been revealed to you from your Lord. If you do not do it, you will not have completed his mission. Allah will protect you from people; verily Allah does not guide the disbelievers.’
Thus, God ordered His Prophet to nominate Ali as his own successor, proclaiming his authority and the necessity to obey him. Then, the vanguards of the caravan had arrived at Juhfa; the Prophet ordered those who had passed that point to return there and those who had already arrived to remain there. There were five trees there; the Prophet ordered people not to sit under those trees. They cleaned under the trees and the crowd gathered and got ready to say the noon prayer. The Prophet stood under the trees and they said the noon prayer in congregation.
It was so hot and the people sat on their cloak, covering their head from the sunlight. They made a sunshade with some clothes for the Prophet. After the Prayer, they made a mounting for the Prophet to mount and make a speech. He called out, ‘praise be to God! We seek help from God; we believe in Him; we trust in Him; and seek refuge unto Him from our evil souls and sinful acts…. I witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His servant and his Messenger…. It is probable for me to die sooner or later. I’m responsible before God just as you are. What will you say?’
They replied, ‘we witness that you have proclaimed God’s message and you were benevolent; May God bless you!’
The Prophet said, ‘don’t you witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger, and that paradise and hell and death are true, and the resurrection will come and God will revive the dead?’
They replied, ‘yes, we witness.’ The Prophet said, ‘O God! Witness this.’ Then he continued, ‘O people! Don’t you hear me?’ they replied, ‘yes, we hear.’ He said, ‘I will go to the Pool of Kawthar; there, you will come to me. Its width is equal to the distance between San’ā (capital of Yemen) and Busrā (a village near Damascus); beside it, there are silver bowls as many as the stars. Protect the Thaqalayn that are my successors.’
They asked, ‘O messenger of God! What are Thaqalayn?’ he replied, ‘the greater Thiql is God’s Book. One side of it is in God’s hand and the other side is in your hands. Cling to it so that you may not go astray. The smaller Thiql is my Ahl al-Bayt. God, the Merciful Knowledgeable, informed me that these two will not separate until they come to me at the Pool of Kathar. I’ve supplicated God that you may not surpass or ignore these two; otherwise you would perish.’
Then the Prophet took Ali’s hand and lifted it high, so that all people knew him; he then called out, ‘who are superior to the believers?’ they replied, ‘God and His messenger are more aware of that.’ Then the Prophet said, ‘Verily, Allah is my master, and I am the master of the believers; and I am superior to them. Whoever I am his master, then Ali is his master too.’ He repeated this three times and said, ‘O God! Be friend to those who are Ali’s friend and enemy to those who are his enemies. Love those who love him and hate those who hate him. Help those who help him and lower those who lower him; and put the truth wherever he is present.’ Then he said, ‘those who are present here must inform the absentees.’
Before the crowd moved on, Gabriel brought the following verse: ‘Today, I perfected your religion for you, and completed my blessings to you, and approved Islam as your religion.’
The Prophet said, ‘God is Great for perfection of religion and completion of His blessings and His approval of my prophethood and Ali bin Abī Tālib’s authority after me.’ Then the crowd congratulated Imam Ali. Meanwhile, Abū Bakr and Umar came to Imam Ali and said, ‘Congratulations! You have become the master of me and all male and female believers.’
The poet Hisān bin Thābit was present there and composed a poem on that occasion with the Prophet’s permission.
This was a summary of the event of Ghadīr and nomination of Imam Ali as the caliph and Imam after the Prophet. It is worth noting that the Ghadīr event and the Prophet’s sermon on that occasion enjoy a special status in religious texts and the poems and literary works common among the Muslims, whether Arab or non-Arab. In Islamic traditions, no tradition has reached that level of consecutiveness, and there is no doubt as to occurrence of that event. 110 of the Prophet’s Companions (Ashāb) and 89 of the Successors (Tābi’īn) have quoted this tradition, and the number of the transmitters amounts to 360 persons. Many poets have composed poems on this occasion; among them are the followings:
The first century: Hisān bin Thābit Ansārī, Qays bin Sa’d bin Ubāda Ansārī, Amr bin Ās bin Wā’il, and Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Himyarī.
The second century: Kumayt bin Ziyād, Sayyid Ismā’īl bin Muhammad bin Himyarī, the Kufan Sha’bān Mus’ab.
The third century: Abū Tamām Habīb bin Aws Tā’ī, Di’bil bin Ali Khuzā’ī; and tens of other in later centuries.
Allāma Amīnī has authored 11 volumes of an invaluable book entitled al-Ghadīr on that event.
Question no. 17: Is the event of Ghadīr evidence for Imam Ali’s Imamate? What is the Shiites’ reason for this?
For the Shiites, Ghadīr is a definite and undeniable document for Imamate and leadership of Imam Ali after the Prophet’s death, and a reliable reason to obey him. This can be investigated in four ways:
1. Scrutiny of the meaning of Wilāya;
2. The verses of the Quran;
3. The Prophet’s interpretation;
4. External evidences.
1. The Meaning of Wilāya
The word wilāya has been used in various semantic spheres such as ‘possession’, ‘releasing’, ‘nearness’, neighborhood’, ‘helping’, ‘priority’, and so on. The lexicographers, however, have considered this word and its derivations such as mawlā and walī as referring to ‘wardenship’, ‘authority’, ‘dominance’, ‘leadership’, and ‘ruling’. Here, we quote the meanings of this word and some of its derivations from the Sunnite lexicographical sources.
- Rāghib Isfahānī writes, ‘Wilāya means helping and walāya means ruling and authority. And it has been said that the relationship between wilāya and walāya is the same as the relationship between dilāla and dalala; in effect, it refers to authority, and mawlā and walī are also used in the same semantic domain.’
- Ibn Athīr writes, ‘Walī means a helper, and someone who assumes the responsibility for an affair would be its mawlā and walī.’ He then writes, ‘…the same thing is true for the hadith reading as ‘everyone whose mawlā I am, then Ali is also his mawlā’; this is also true for what Umar said to Ali, ‘you are the mawlā of any believer; that is, you are the walī of the believers.’’
The author of Sihāh al-Lugha writes, ‘Anyone who assumes the responsibility for another person’s affairs is his walī.’
In Maqā’īs al-Lugha, we see the following explanations: ‘Anyone who is trusted with someone else’s affairs is his walī.’
2. The Verses of the Quran
Three verses have been revealed on the Ghadīr event:
a) The verse of Iblāgh (declaration);
b) The verse of Ikmāl al- Dīn (perfection of religion);
c) The verse: ‘someone asked for an immediate torment…’
We have already covered the discussions on the link between the first two verses and the Ghadīr event. Now we deal with the third verse.
Based on what have been transmitted both in Sunnite and Shiite sources, after the Prophet’s speeches in Ghadīr were widespread, someone called Jābir bin Nazar or Hārith bin Nu’mān Fihrī came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Muhammad! You told us to witness that there is no god except Allah and that you are Allah’s messenger; you told us to say prayers, fast, perform hajj rituals and pay zakāt alms. But you were not content with that much and now you make your cousin our master and say ‘anyone whose master I am, Ali is also his master.’ Now I want to know whether you have said this on your own or from God.’ The Prophet said, ‘I swear on the One except whom there is no god that what I said was from God.’ At this point, the man hurried up to his horse while he was saying, ‘O God! If what Muhammad says is true, shower on us stones or afflict upon us a deadly torment.’ Before he reached his horse, a stone fell upon his head from the sky and killed him. Then, the verses 1 to 3 of the chapter 70 (Ma’ārij) of the Quran were revealed: ‘Someone asked for an immediate torment specific to the unbelievers; there is no obstacle for it…’
In these verses, the Quran criticizes the obstinacy of the person and regards it some sort of disbelief which deserves an unpardonable punishment. Thus, the Quran has three doctrines in this regard:
1. It endorses the divine nature of the Ghadīr event;
2. It supports the idea of the Prophet’s stressing on Imam Ali’ Imamate and leadership;
3. It regards any opposition to this as something deserving punishment. All these show the great status of Imamate along with the Prophet’s mission.
3. The Prophet’s Explanation
The best person to explain someone’s purpose in saying something is the speaker himself. According to numerous traditions transmitted both in Shiite and Sunnite sources, the Prophet explained his intention of what he said on Imam Ali’s authority in Ghadīr. To be brief, we mention two of them here:
3-1. Hussein bin Ismā’īl Jurjānī quotes, on his own authority, the Prophet as replying someone who asked him about the sentence ‘whoever whose master I am, …’. There, the Prophet answered, ‘God is my mawlā; that is, He is superior to me in my own affairs, and I have no command before Him. I am the mawlā of the believers; that is, I have priority over them as to their affairs. They must never do something on their own as long as I am present. Whoever whose mawlā I am and he has no command in my presence, then Ali is also his mawlā and superior to him; such a person must never do something on his own.’
3-2. Sheikh al-Islam Humwaynī writes, ‘On the day of Ghadīr, the Prophet said ‘whoever whose master I am, Ali is also his master…’; Salmān got up and asked, ‘O the Messenger of God! How is this mastership?’ the Prophet answered, ‘[it is] a mastership as mine; whoever to whom I am superior, Ali is also superior to him.’
4. Evidences and Clues
4-1. Introducing Thaqalayn: as stated before, the Prophet introduced Ahl al-Bayt on numerous occasions and specified the strategy of following the Quran and his ‘Itrat (i.e. Household) forever. Among them is his saying on the day of Ghadīr, ‘I leave among you two invaluable things: God’s Book and my own ‘Itrat.’ Here, the Prophet put his ‘Itrat alongside the Quran and introduced following them as the way for salvation. In addition, he mentioned Imam Ali as the head of the infallible Imams. This shows that Imam Ali’s authority is the starting point for following the Quran and the Prophet’s ‘Itrat. This is the very Imamate and authority of Imam Ali both in religious and worldly affairs.
4-2. In the introduction of his speech, the Prophet stressed on carrying out his mission and his superiority to the believers, making people to acknowledge this; immediately, then, he put forward Imam Ali’s authority. This shows that Imam Ali’s authority is similar to that of the Prophet, according to which he has priority over Muslims in religious, political, and social matters.
4-3. immediately after the Prophet put forward Imam Ali’s authority, he raised his hands in supplication and cursed those who would not help Imam Ali and make him alone. This is clear evidence that the word Wilāyat refers to Imam Ali’s leadership and authority not just a sense of affection towards him, because what requires assistance is leadership, not mere affection.
4-4. Public proclamation; the Ghadīr sermon was one of the most public sermons delivered by the Prophet, since:
Firstly, he chose a point where the pilgrims would separate and diverge, so that all of them could be present in his sermon;
Secondly, he ordered those who had passed to return to that point, and waited for the rest who had not arrived yet;
Thirdly, he ordered the attendee to inform the absentees of what was said.
All this shows that the case in point was a very important and critical one for the Islamic nation. In the last days of the Prophet’s life when all religious precepts and doctrines have been stated, this condition is not consistent with anything other than Imamate and caliphate without which the Prophet’s mission would face difficulty and religion would remain imperfect. Otherwise, was it wise for the great leader of Muslims, the Prophet, to gather all those pilgrims in that hot weather to proclaim something not of so much importance?
4-5. As stated in the discussion on the verse Ikmāl, the Prophet, having proclaimed Imam Ali’s authority, said, ‘God is great for perfection of religion and completion of His blessings and His approval of my prophethood and Ali bin Abī Tālib’s authority after me.’ The Important point here is that:
No meaning of Wilāyat except authority and Imamate – which is the continuation of prophethood and its preservation – is consistent with perfection of religion. Furthermore, if any other meaning of Wilāyat such as affection was meant, there was no need to restrict it to the time after the Prophet’s death, because it would be meaningless for the Prophet to say, ‘O people! Have affection towards Ali after my death.’
4-6. After the Ghadīr event, the Prophet said, ‘Congratulate me! God Almighty granted me prophethood and granted my Ahl-e Bayt imamate.’
4-7. After the Prophet’s speech on Ghadīr, the people would give allegiance to Imam Ali; this took about three days. Besides, great sheikhs such as Abū Bakr, Umar and Uthmān took the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali. Umar, in giving his allegiance, told Imam Ali, ‘Congratulations! You have become the master of me and all male and female believers.’
It must be noted that giving allegiance is consistent with nothing except authority and leadership, as shown by what Abū Bakr and Umar said in this regard.
4-8. All those who were present there understood the meaning of Imam Ali’s wilāyat as his authority and imamate, and Hisān bin Thābit Ansārī took the Prophet’s permission to compose a poem on that occasion. In one couplet of that poem, he says [on behalf of the Prophet], ‘O Ali! Stand up. I want you to be the imam and guide of the [Muslim] nation after me.’
It is also noteworthy that:
Firstly, the Prophet’s taqrīr (i.e. his silence and no opposition against what is said or what is done) is a proof of something as a Sunnah for all Muslims. If the Prophet meant something other than imamate and authority, why did he affirmed Hisān and even praised him for his poem.
Secondly, this shows that others also understood the same meaning; otherwise, they would object that the Prophet had not meant imamate or authority.
4-9. Imam Ali, other Infallible Imams, and the Prophet’s Companions and the Successors repeatedly adduced Ghadīr event as proof for Imam Ali’s Imamate.
There are other documentations and evidences that show the hadith of Ghadīr denotes Imam Ali’s authority and imamate, which we may not mention here to observe brevity.
The Sunnites and the Ghadīr Event
Question no 22: Do Sunnites acknowledge the Ghadīr event? If yes, how do they justify it and what is the answer to it?
In view of the consecutiveness of the hadiths pertaining to Ghadīr and frequent transmission of those hadiths in traditional, historical and exegetical and even literal sources of various Islamic schools and sects, there is no doubt as to factual nature of that event. Hence, most of the Sunnites have a positive view of Ghadīr and do not deny it. What makes the matter problematic, however, is the way they justify and interpret it based on their bases and presumption on imamate. This has made them indulge in presenting various justifications. Despite all these attempts, they have been unable to present a rational justification against the fact that the Prophet’s speech clearly denotes Imam Ali’s imamate and authority. This has caused many Sunnite scholars to accept this denotation of the Prophet’s speech or a near meaning of it. Some of these persons are the followings:
1. Shamsuddīn Sibt bin Jawzī in Tazkirat al-Khawās, p. 18;
2. Kamāluddīn bin Talha Shāfe’ī in Matālib al-Su’ūl, p. 16;
3. Abū Abdullah al- Shāfe’ī in Kifāyat al-Tālib, p. 658, …
Nevertheless, some of them have tried, while accepting this fact, to present justifications consistent with the caliphate of other caliphs as well. Now, we mention some of the most common justifications presented in this regard.
1. Stating Imam Ali’s Superiority and Priority
Some of the Mu’tazilīs such as Sheikh Abul-Qāsim Balkhī and Ibn Abi-l Hadīd hold that the Prophet merely meant stating [Imam] Ali’s priority and his greater desert for rule and caliphate, not nominating him as such.
a) The expressions used by the Prophet in Ghadīr and on other occasions explicitly denote nomination of Imam Ali. The followings are some examples:
‘Whoever I am his master, then Ali is also his master; verily this is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you. Listen to him and obey him.’
‘O Ali! You are the Imam and the caliph after me.’
‘Verily, Ali is the Imam of my friends.’
‘You [Ali] are the Imam for those who believe in me.’
Expressions such as the above examples are not consistent with the above justification. It is noteworthy that Ibn Abi-l Hadīd himself has referred to this problem and finally writes, ‘…the original texts apparently show what Shiites claim.’
b) Citation of Ghadīr event by Imam Ali and her majesty Fatima as well as other Imams and great Companions such as Salmān, Abūzar, Miqdād, Ammār, … in proving Imam Ali’s imamate and caliphate is not consistent with Imam Ali’s mere superiority with no nomination as imam and caliph.
3. Imam Ali repeatedly spoke of his definite right in caliphate, complaining before God about those who have usurped his right.
4. Imamate is a religious authority, not merely a political leadership which may be entrusted to anyone. It requires special characteristics and qualifications which may not be recognized except by a divine authority.
5. Islam insists on the dominance of qualified persons. Both Shiites and Sunnites have transmitted the following hadith from the Prophet: ‘someone who assumes a responsibility [or who entrusts another one with a responsibility] while he knows there is someone else with better knowledge of God’s Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah for assuming it, he has betrayed God, the Prophet and all Muslims.’
Thus, even if the hadith of Ghadīr merely refers to the superiority of Imam Ali over others for caliphate, according to the abovementioned tradition, it is a betrayal on the part of others to assume this responsibility or to entrust it to others.
6. Interpreting hadiths: as mentioned before, the Prophet himself explained what he meant by the word wilāya; under this condition, any other interpretation of his speech is irrational and unjustifiable.
2. Candidate for the Caliphate
Another probability is that the Prophet’s purpose in Ghadīr sermon was to introduce [Imam] Ali as his favorite candidate for caliphate, so there is no legal or religious liability with it. On this basis, others are free to be candidate and people are free to choose [Imam] Ali as caliph or not.
1. The objections stated for the previous idea is also true for this one. If the Prophet meant to merely introduce his favorite candidate, it would be meaningless for him to adduce his own religious authority and the priority of his own decision over that of others, linking Imam Ali’s authority to his own authority.
2. What happened after the Ghadīr are not consistent with the mere candidature; among them is what happened to Hārith bin Nu’mān Fehrī. Would introducing someone as a candidate cause others to present serious objections? Certainly not; the opponents could choose another candidate instead.
3. If we suppose that the Prophet first introduced [Imam] Ali as the candidate for caliphate, we must consider the fact that after this the people took the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali and great companions such as Abū Bakr and Uthmān said him congratulations. Under this condition, the candidature would turn into a real election with its social and religious obligations. This proved Imam Ali’s being successor of the Prophet, and any breach of the allegiance is considered baghy (i.e. insolence and rebellion) in the Quran’s language.
Question no. 18: Some Sunnites say ‘we acknowledge the Ghadīr event just as Shiites; however, Shiites hold that the Prophet meant Ali’s imamate but we consider the Prophet’s speeches as referring to ‘affection towards Ali’; so we both love Ali and respect him’. What is your opinion in this regard?
According to one perception of the word wilāya in the Prophet’s speeches, that word means affection. However, some points must be noted here:
1. If those who hold that wilāya means ‘affection’ believe in this meaning as a meaning alongside the notion of Imamate and leadership, it would be an acceptable idea consistent with the Shiite view. This idea supports the views of some Sunnite scholars such as Ibn Talha Shāfe’ī (d. 654 AH). After some explanations on the verse of mubāhila in which God equals Ali with the Prophet himself, Ibn Talha writes, ‘In this hadith (hadith of Ghadīr), the Prophet stresses on the same authority for Imam Ali as his own authority conferred to him by God; that is, he is superior to the believer, and he is their helper and their master; any meaning inferred from the word mawlā for the Prophet is also true for Imam Ali.’
2. If they hold that by the word wilāya the Prophet just meant ‘affection’ and ‘friendship’ not authority and the like, there would be critiques as to this view:
a) Such a meaning would be true only if the existing evidences support it and there was no evidence supporting the meaning of wilāya as authority and imamate. However, all the existing evidences support the latter and there is no evidence for the former.
b) Most of the critiques mentioned for the previous ideas are applicable for this one as well.
c) As mentioned before, many reliable sources of Arabic language whose authors are Sunnites have presented the ‘authority’ and ‘headship’ as the equivalent for the word wilāya in the Prophet’s speech.
d) If the meaning of wilāya was just ‘affection’ and ‘friendship’, was it consistent with the fact that God tells His Prophet, ‘…if you do not proclaim it, you have not finished God’s mission’? The verses Tablīgh and Ikmāl show that the wilāya on Ghadīr was a new and important one without which the religion would be imperfect, while another verse had already been revealed on the necessity of affection towards Ahl al-Bayt as follows: ‘[O Muhammad] say I do not want you any fee for my mission, except affection towards my Household.’ Thus, reducing the meaning of wilāya to mere affection is not consistent with the Quranic evidences at all.
e) God comfort the Prophet by saying ‘God will protect you from the people.’ This shows that the Prophet was afraid that some would oppose him and conspire against him if he proclaimed the verse of wilāya.
Now, we may ask what that probable conspiracy was. Such an idea is not consistent with any meaning of the word wilāya except the authority.
f) The Prophet prayed for those who would help Imam Ali and cursed those who would oppose him; this is clear evidence that by the word wilāya he meant authority and leadership and not mere affection.
g) The Prophet prayed, ‘O God! Put the truth wherever he (Ali) is present.’ This is also consistent with imamate and leadership.
h) As mentioned before, after Ghadīr, the Prophet said, ‘God is great for perfection of religion and completion of His blessings and His approval of my prophethood and Ali bin Abī Tālib’s authority after me.’ The Important point here is that if any other meaning of wilāyat such as affection was meant, there would be no need to restrict it to the time after the Prophet’s death, because it would be meaningless for the Prophet to say, ‘O people! Have affection towards Ali after my death.’ The only things that could not exist simultaneously were the religious authority and leadership of both the Prophet and Imam Ali.
i) As mentioned before, after Ghadīr the people would come to Imam Ali to take the oath of allegiance. This is also inconsistent with the meaning of affection; because it is someone’s leadership and authority that requires people’s allegiance, not mere affection.
j) The Prophet introduces Imam Ali’s wilāya as something equal to his own authority; this is clear evidence that it extends to the highest meanings of the word, i.e. religious and worldly authority and headship.
k) On some occasions, the Prophet’s Companions have explicitly proclaimed that the Prophet nominated Imam Ali. Shahābuddīn Hamadānī quotes Umar as narrating, “The Prophet nominated Ali as the leader and said ‘whoever whose master I am, Ali is also his master. O God! Be friend to his friends and enemy to his enemies…O God! You are my witness.’ Then I (Umar) said, ‘O God’s Messenger! A handsome fragrant young man beside me told me that the Prophet made a pact which no one would break except a hypocrite.’ Then the Prophet took my hand and said, ‘O Umar! He was the angle Gabriel, not a man. He wanted to emphasize what I told about Ali.’”
The word ‘nominated’ in what Umar narrated is quite consistent with the Shiite view about Imam Ali’s Imamate, not mere affection toward him.
Question no. 19: One of my Sunnite friends said, ‘In Ghadīr, the Prophet nominated Ali as the caliph after Uthmān, not as the first caliph after the Prophet.’ Can this be true?
This idea has some records among some Sunnite scholars. Having investigated various usages of the word mawlā, they concluded that this word in the Ghadīr sermon encompasses the highest levels of wilāyat, which are leadership and imamate, and there is no choice other than accepting Imam Ali’s caliphate immediately after the Prophet. However, in view of what really happened in history, they inferred that the Prophet did not mean immediate caliphate, so that they could resolve the problem with the caliphate of the previous caliphs.
Shahābuddīn Dawlat Ābādī (d. 1049) writes, “By the words ‘whoever whose master I am, Ali is also his master’ the Prophet meant Ali is a master with authority when he would be a caliph.’”
Muhammad bin al-Sa’īd bin Muhammad Kashshī also holds that the Prophet nominated Ali as the caliph after Uthmān – when Muāwiya was also a caliph.
Contrary to this idea, there are many evidences that prove Imam Ali’s authority and Imamate immediately after the Prophet:
A) The Quran’s verses
1. Verses revealed on Imam Ali’s authority, whether on Ghadīr event or on other occasions, generally denote – in various forms – Imam Ali’s immediate authority and Imamate after the Prophet. Among them are the following verses:
1-1. The verse Wilāya. The verse reads as: ‘Verily your wardens are only Allah, his Messenger and those who believe [in Allah], who establish worship and pay the poor due while they bow down [in prayer]’ ; it speaks of authority in an exclusive form. The Quran uses the term innamā (meaning ‘verily’), which refers to exclusiveness, and restricts the ‘authority’ to God, His Messenger, and Imam Ali. The content of the verse shows that as long as Imam Ali was alive, no one else could enjoy this authority, just as no one could enjoy authority as long as the Prophet was alive. If Imam Ali’s caliphate immediately after the Prophet is accepted, the exclusiveness asserted by the verse would be meaningless.
1-2. The verses revealed on Ghadīr event, such as the verse Iblāgh and the verse Ikmāl, are quite consistent with Imam Ali’s immediate caliphate and Imamate, because it would be irrational that all those God’s emphases to proclaim an important matter was for choosing Imam Ali as the caliph after Uthmān. This is also true for later events such as what happened to Hārith bin Nu’mān Fehrī.
B) The Prophet’s Speeches
1. The Prophet’s speeches typically denote Imam Ali’s immediate caliphate. Based on linguistic rules, if someone nominates someone else as his successor with no reference to time interval, this would mean immediate succession. Otherwise, he must explicitly say the contrary. In the Prophet’s speeches, however, there was no evidence that Imam Ali would be the caliph after Uthmān.
2. On some occasions, both on Ghadīr and other occasions, the Prophet explicitly stressed on Imam Ali’s caliphate after himself. Among them are the followings:
- After the verse Ikmāl was revealed in Ghadīr, the Prophet said, ‘God is great for perfection of religion and completion of His blessings and His approval of my prophethood and Ali bin Abī Tālib’s authority after me.’
- Once the Prophet said, ‘Verily Ali is your warden after me.’
- Once the Prophet said, ‘O Ali! You are the Imam and the Caliph after me.’
Considering such emphases, how can one say the Prophet meant Imam Ali must be caliph 25 years later after Uthmān was murdered – when the people came to him and insisted that he must become their ruler?
3. The extensiveness and inclusion of what the Prophet said is only consistent with Imam Ali’s immediate caliphate, because when the Prophet said, ‘whoever whose master I am, Ali is also his mater’, this would include all members of Islamic society, even those who assume caliphate after the Prophet. If Imam Ali was to be caliph after Uthmān, this would exclude those who lived before Uthmān from Imam Ali’s authority and mastership; and this would be a violation of the general rule the Prophet stated.
4. The Prophet’s order to gain people’s allegiance for Imam Ali is a reason for Imam Ali’s immediate caliphate and it would be meaningless to gain allegiance for his caliphate after three other caliphs.
C. Imam Ali’s Practice
The way Imam Ali treated the Ghadīr event shows that he understood from what the Prophet said immediate caliphate and imamate for himself. This is clearly seen in his adducing to Ghadīr and complaint to God for usurpation of his own right by others.
On the other side, Imam Ali was the nearest person to the Prophet and enjoyed the privilege of Infallibility, or he is – for Sunnites – at least one of the Prophet’s Companions whose statements are of ultimate reliability. According to the Prophet’s saying that ‘The truth is with Ali and Ali is with the truth’ – transmitted by both Shiite and Sunnites – Imam Ali’s perception and what he understood of the Prophet’s words is absolutely right; no one’s opinion can be equal to his. Thus, the way Imam Ali treated the Ghadīr event is another clear evidence for his immediate imamate and caliphate.
D. External Evidences
There are numerous external evidences for Imam Ali’s immediate authority after the Prophet. To be brief, we just mention one of them here:
As mentioned before, after the Prophet’s sermon on Ghadīr day, the people took the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali, and especially Abū Bakr and Umar congratulated him and said you became our master and the master of all believers. This clearly shows Imam Ali’s authority based on those persons’ acknowledgement.
Imam Ali and Ghadīr Event
Question no. 20: If Imam Ali was nominated for caliphate on Ghadīr day, why didn’t he adduce this as a proof for his right to caliphate after the Prophet?
Imam Ali adduced to Ghadīr and his nomination in that day on numerous occasions. Allāma Amīnī, in his great book al-Ghadīr, has mentioned some of those occasions based on Sunnite sources. Some of them are as follows:
1. On the day of Shūrā;
2. Under Uthmān;
3. On the time of entering Kūfa in the year 35 AH.
4. In the battle of Jamal;
5. In the battle of Siffīn;
To be brief, we just mention the first occasion; that is, Imam Ali’s adducing to hadith of Ghadīr on the day of Shūrā:
Āmir bin Wāthila says, “On the day of Shūrā, I had stood with Ali by the door of the house and heard him saying them, ‘I present a reason for you nobody can blemish. O crowd! Is there anyone who became a believer in the God’s Unity before me?’ They replied, No.’ He asked, ‘Is there anyone among you whose brother is like Ja’far Tayyār who flies with the angels?’ They replied, ‘No.’ ‘Is there anyone among you who has an Uncle such as Hamza, God’s sword and the Prophet’s sword?’ They replied, ‘No.’ Again he asked, ‘Is there anyone among you who has a wife like Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter and mistress of the women of the world? They replied, ‘No.’ He asked them, ‘Is there anyone among you who – ordered by the Quran – has paid alms before whispering with the Prophets?’ They replied, No.’ He asked them, ‘Is there anyone among you about whom the Prophet has said ‘Whoever I am his master, then Ali is his master too. O God! Be friend to those who are Ali’s friend and enemy to those who are his enemies. Help those who help him and lower those who lower him; those who are present here must inform the absentees?’ They replied, ‘No.’
In addition to Imam Ali, her majesty Fatima would also adduce to hadith of Ghadīr, saying in her objections, “Have you forgotten the Prophet’s speech on Ghadīr that said, ‘Whoever I am his master, then Ali is his master too’ and the Prophet’s saying that, ‘Ali’s relation to me is the same as Aeron’s relation to Moses’?”
Imams Hassan and Hussein have also adduced to this fact on some occasions.
Apart from the Prophet’s Household, many of the Prophet’s companions and others, even among Imam Ali’s enemies – such as Amr bin Ās – have adduced to this fact.
Adducing to this event continued on next centuries; the Abbasid caliph, Ma’mūn, also adduced to the Ghadīr event.
Ghadīr and People’s Defection
Question no. 21: If Imam Ali’s succession was proclaimed on the day of Ghadīr, why did people withdraw and nobody said anything about it in Saqīfa?
In historical accounts – except a few sources – little has been said of the people’s severe reaction and their mentioning the Ghadīr event. While most of the people of Medina were present at Ghadīr, why did they forget the event 70 or 84 days after it?
There is a strong probability of people’s objection and their mentioning the Ghadīr event, but this objection may have been kept secret due to the policy of transmission and compilation of hadiths. However, those objections were not that much widespread. How can this be justified? To find the historical clues to this problem, we must investigate the situation of that part of the history as well as the course of political and social trends from the time the Ghadīr event occurred up to the time the Prophet died. Thus, it is necessary to discuss the matter in the following lines:
A) Before the Prophet established the Islamic government in Medina, the people of the great cities of Hijāz and the oases of that region had a tribal system of living. In that system, the head of the tribe had no right to determine his own successor, and some features such as the age were the criterion for the selection of the headman.
B) The Prophet was the first person who created an institute called ‘government’ and presented values beyond the tribe. He managed to centralize various tribes in the cities and oases of that region under one single system. The people who knew him as a divine prophet would consider establishing the government by the Prophet as a divine affair, not resisting against it.
C) Before the conquest of Mecca, Islam diffuse increasingly among the people of the cities and the oases of that region in a way that the next year (year 9 AH) was called Ām al-Wufūd¸ i.e. the year of delegations. In that year, people would come to the Prophet in different groups to convert to Islam. Of course, not all of them had a spiritual motivation and not all Muslims were truly Muslims.
D) One of the Islamic doctrines – which people were reluctant to accept – was that of determining a successor. This was because:
1. People just knew the Prophet as having a divine aspect and would accept just his government. In their view, the Prophet’s successor would not enjoy the same feature.
2. Many of the people were still unwilling to absolutely accept all the orders issued by the Prophet. The evidences for this are their objections to him in Hudaybiya peace pact and dividing the booties of war in the battle of Hunayn.
3. Many people would not obey the Prophet’s orders on worldly affairs after his death, because they were still clinging to their ignorant ideas, ideas that would not allow the head of the tribe to determine his own successor. Naturally, they would regard headship of the government even more important than the headship of a tribe.
4. Some of those among Quraysh who had newly converted to Islam would think that the Prophet had presented his prophetic mission for tribal rivalry. In view of the general reception of the Prophet’s message on the part of the people, these dissidents did not dare to oppose the Prophet. However, they showed their objection by determining a successor – especially from the Banī Hāshim tribe – for the Prophet. They made use of the tribal culture of the people to state their objection more clearly.
5. In the Days of Ignorance, just those noblemen who were at least 40 years old were allowed to enter the deliberative chamber of Quraysh (Dār al-Nadwa). On this basis, it was very difficult for them to accept Imam Ali (about 33 years old) as the Prophet’s successor.
E) Two other factors made Imam Ali’s succession face with difficulty:
1. For Quraysh, Imam Ali had no positive figure because of his courageous fighting in the battles of Badr and Uhud where he killed some great worriers of Quraysh; this caused them to start negative propaganda against him.
2. People of different tribes had understood the fact that in view of Banī Hāshim’s qualifications, if the Prophet’s succession is established among them, it will be fixed there forever.
F) The Prophet’s view of Imam Ali’s succession was beyond tribal and familial relations. He was thinking of protecting Islam and it was natural for him to choose the person who enjoyed the most knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah, a person who was the most courageous and assiduous for diffusing Islamic doctrines. The Prophet was aware of the social conditions of that time; thus, from the beginning of his mission, he would mention Imam Ali’s qualifications and would speak of his succession.
Finally, the Prophet was commissioned by God to proclaim this in the greatest congregation of the Muslims, ignoring the oppositions on the part of the people.
The phrase ‘…and Allah will protect you from the people…’ in the verse 67 of chapter Mā’ida reveals the Prophet’s concern about this proclamation, and secures him. There, the words ‘protect’ and ‘people’ are informative. Against what God will protect the Prophet and who were those ‘people’?
In view of the fact that the Prophet was not protected against the people’s sayings, and the fact that Imam Ali’s succession was not realized exactly as the Prophet said, it seems that the phrase ‘will protect you’ refers to protecting the Prophet against physical harm by people, especially the newly converted Muslims of that time.
G) The history is silent on many events in the period between Ghadīr and the Prophet’s death. However, an anatomical study of two important phenomena of that time reveals the serious attempts made by the Prophet for determining Imam Ali as well as the widespread attempts of his opponents. Those phenomena are (a) forming Usāma’a army and (b) disagreements with writing down the Prophet’s important will.
In the last days of his life, the Prophet ordered the formation of a great army under a young commander called Umāma bin Zayd to be dispatched to boundaries between Islamic country and Rome. A close scrutiny of that event shows that the Prophet aimed at establishing Imam Ali’s succession, because:
1. In that time when the Prophet was about to die, it was not wise to send out all martial forces and deplete the center of the state; because it was probable that many new Muslims of the surrounding tribes might rebel after the Prophet’s death, threatening the Islamic territory. What justified that decision as a logical one was the idea of distancing the opponents of Imam Ali’s succession from Medina.
2. Nominating an eighteen-years-old young man as the commander of the army with no attention to the objections made by other companions aimed just at defusing the most important objection of the opponents of Imam Ali’s succession; this is because Usāma was not the super-ordinate of the companions and was about 15 years younger than Imam Ali. While Usāma was lower in rank compared to Imam Ali, he was now the commander of a great army composed of great companions such as Abū Bakr, Umar, Abū Ubayda Jarrāh, Uthmān, Talha, Zubayr, Abdur-Rahmān bin Awf and Sa’d bin Abī Waqqās.
3. A scrutiny of the composition of Usāma’s army shows that all those who were probable to oppose Imam Ali’s succession were ordered to take part in that army. Even those who returned to Medina on the excuse of the Prophet’s illness experienced the Prophet’s cursing as follows: ‘May God curse those who refuse to take part in Usāma’s army.’ On the contrary, those companions who agreed with Imam Ali’s succession – such as Ammār, Miqdād and Salmān – were exempted from going with the army and were ordered to remain in Medina.
One of the events which occurred in the last days of the Prophet’s life was Umar’s preventing the Prophet’s will from being written. In those days when the opposition to Imam Ali’s succession was very high and the Prophet was worried about it, the Prophet ordered to bring him pen and paper so that he could leave an eternal document and prevent the Muslim nation from going astray. The opponents who saw this contrary to their already planned plots were severely worried and prevented that document from being written on the excuse that the Prophet had gone into a delirium. Here, the history names just one person in this regard, i.e. the second caliph. However, it is obvious that one single person with no support by a trend could not confront the Prophet. Therefore, in some transmitted texts, the word qālū (meaning ‘they said’) has been used to show that there was a group of persons who accused the Prophet of going into a delirium.
H) The first persons who held the meeting for nominating the caliph – a caliph apart from Imam Ali – in Saqīfa were among the Ansār (the Helpers). The Ansār were famous for their obedience from the Prophet and their friendship with the Prophet’s family, especially Imam Ali.
Why did Ansār held such a meeting hastily, while the Prophet’s body had not been ritually washed yet?
The historical evidences show that Ansār were not afraid of the succession of a person like Imam Ali; they knew him as the person who would go on the Prophet’s path. It seems, however, that they found Imam Ali would not take the power anyway. The great companions’ refusal from joining Usāma’s army, preventing the Prophet’s will from being written down, and other events which history has been silent about are all among the factors making Ansār conclude that Muhājirān (the Emigrants) were decided to seize the power, and it was probable that those among the Quraysh whose headmen were killed in the battles with Ansār were to make use of close relationship between Muhājirān and Quraysh to have their revenge. Thus, Ansār hurried up toward Saqīfa to prevent Imam Ali’s opponents from taking the whole power and try to have a share in power to protect the society of Ansār in the future.
Ansār and the people of Medina all had the Ghadīr event in mind, assuming Imam Ali’s caliphate as a definite result of that event. However, they observed the attempts made by the opponents of Imam Ali’s caliphate to suppress the movement of the proponent; thus they were prevented from doing anything to recall Ghadīr.
Therefore, apart from people’s duty, it seemed almost natural – under the social conditions of that time – that the general people were not objecting to Saqīfa. Indeed, considering the previous backgrounds, they were quite disappointed of the result of such an objection.
The Necessity of Nominating a Successor
Question no. 22: Why was it necessary for the Prophet to introduce and nominate someone as his successor?
Nominating the Prophet’s successor was an inevitable affair due to various reasons. The mystery of this inevitability lies in the necessity and function of imamate in the Islamic society, which were already discussed. However, the following points are mentioned here:
1. Imam, the Prophet’s successor, is the infallible explainer of the religion after the Prophet and the preventive force against the deviation, misunderstanding and perversity in religion.
2. In view of his infallible understanding of religion, Imam is the unique authority for resolving the disagreements in doctrine and practice in the realm of religion; he preserves the solidarity of the society.
3. Governance and politics in Islam are of religious nature, and this depends on those who are at the highest level of understanding religious doctrines and committing to them, i.e. the level of infallibility.
On the one hand, recognizing an infallible person is not an ordinary and public affair; rather, it is a divine affair specific to God. Thus, it was an obligation for the Prophet to proclaim the divine order to the People, introducing those who have been nominated by God.
On the other hand, as stated before, the Prophet had no free will in this regard. God Almighty insisted on the high importance of this issue, and considered nominating a proper successor for the Prophet as the final factor in perfection of the religion, commissioning the Prophet to proclaim it.
The Number of Imams
Question no. 23: Why are Imams twelve in number? What is the Sunnites’ position in this regard?
The number of Imams and their specific characteristics has been mentioned in various traditions transmitted from the Prophet by both Sunnites and Shiites. Here, we mention some of them from the Sunnite sources:
1. ‘The people’s affairs will go on until twelve men rule them.’
2. ‘The number of my successors is the same as the Moses’ chiefs.’
3. ‘The religion is always alive as long as [my] twelve successors and caliphs rule you.’
4. ‘This nation’s affairs are going on until [my] twelve caliphs and successors rule them, all of them from Quraysh.’
5. ‘Twelve caliphs will rule this nation, the same number as the Israelite chiefs.’
6. Explaining on the exclusiveness of imamate in Quraysh, Imam Ali says, ‘The imams of Quraysh are only descendents of Hāshim; no one deserves imamate except them….’
7. ‘The Imams after me are twelve and all are descendents of Hussein; and the twelfth is called Mahdī.’ Other traditions like these – which have been transmitted by the Sunnite sources on the number of Imams – can be found in other sources as well.
8. According to a tradition transmitted by Sufyān bin Aynīya quoted in Yanābī’ al-Mawadda, the Prophet said, ‘Religion is always alive until resurrection or until twelve Imams rule you, all of whim are from Banī Hāshim.’
9. Imam al-Haramayn, Juwaynī, quoted Ibn Abbās who transmitted a tradition from the Prophet as follows: ‘I am the master of the prophets and Ali is the master of the Trustees. The Trustees after me are twelve in number; the first one is Ali and the last one is Mahdī.’
10. Ibn Abbās quoted the Prophet as saying, ‘My successors and trustees and the divine proofs are twelve in number; the first one is my brother and the last one is my offspring.’ They asked the Prophet, ‘Who is your brother?’ He replied, ‘Ali bin Abī Tālib.’ They asked, ‘Who is your offspring?’ He replied, ‘He is Mahdī, the very person who fills the earth with justice and fairness, just as it is filled with oppression and cruelty….’
The Sunnite View
The Sunnite scholars have faced with difficulty and wandering in interpreting these traditions and reconciling them with the reality.
Ibn Arabī named sixteen caliphs from Abū Bakr up to Saffāh; then added the names of twenty seven of Abbasid caliphs. Since he could not find any conformity between these numbers and the number mentioned by the Prophet, he said, ‘I do not get any meaning out of these traditions.’
Jalāluddīn Suyūtī selected some of the caliphs and omits some others so that he may reconcile the related numbers with the number mentioned in the Prophet’s hadith.
In this regard, he writes, ‘A number of the twelve caliphs are the Orthodox Caliphs (the four first caliphs). Then, the rest are Imam Hassan, Mu’āwiya, Ibn Zubayr and Umar bin Abdul-Azīz. Up to this point, we have eight caliphs. We may add the Abbasid Mahdī, because he is, among Abbasids, like Umar bin Abdul-Azīz among the Umayyads. We may also add the Abbasid Tāhir who is famous for his justice. There remain two others who are expected. One of them is Mahdī, since he is from the Prophet’s Household.’
These views have been reviewed by other scholars, especially because the Prophet’s sayings emphasize several things:
1. The issue of twelve Imams is not restricted to a specific period of time. It is fixed under various conditions of the Muslim nation up to the end of the history. This is while the number of the caliphs will be several times more than twelve.
2. The characteristics and functions mentioned in the Prophet’s traditions are not applicable to the caliphs mentioned by the abovementioned Sunnite scholars, especially the characteristics such as the followings: they are all of the Banī Hāshim, their first one is Imam Ali and nine of them are descendents of Imam Hussein, and so on.
Now we may conclude that the only interpretation consistent with the contents of the aforementioned traditions is the interpretation stated in the Shiite view.
The Imams’ Characteristics
Recognizing the Imams
Question no. 24: Considering the well-known hadith ‘Anyone who does not know the Imam of his time, he will die as a person in the Days of Ignorance’, what are the features of this recognition and how is it acquired?
It is quite irrational to follow those who claim leadership while there is an Infallible Imam present. Thus, it is necessary and obligatory to attempt to recognize the Infallible Imam of the day. As the Prophet says, ‘anyone who dies and does not know his Imam has died as in the Days of Ignorance.’
The features of this recognition are as follows:
1. It must be taken from reliable and authentic sources;
2. It must encompass all the doctrinal, moral and ritual teachings;
3. Since the Imam is a role model for all human beings, it must include the intellectual, practical, and spiritual aspects of Imam.
This recognition is acquired form three ways:
A) Studying the Biography of Imams
Studying Imams’ way of life, especially their virtues, characteristics and disposition – such as their courage, altruism, humbleness, patience, wisdom, etc. – makes us aware of their high position, leading to an attraction towards them in one’s soul.
B) Studying and Thinking on Imams’ Sayings
Islam regards thinking as a cause for gaining insight, an invitation to good deeds, a generator of enlightenment, and a sign of one’s insightful heart’s being alive.
Studying and thinking on Imams’ intellectual works, though it seems very difficult, is quite useful. Besides leading to a deep recognition of Imams and creating affection towards them, this is considered an invaluable asset for one’s soul. This study must be done under supervision of skilful teachers and by referring to books written in exposition of their speeches.
C) Knowing God
If we truly know God and His Names and Attributes, we may know perfect men (Imams) as well, because they are perfect reflection of divine attributes of Magnificence and Beauty. Perhaps the prayer quoted in religious texts for the Occultation Period is just for the same reason: ‘O God! Make me know you; for if you do not do it, I won’t know your Messenger. O God! Make me know your Messenger; for if you do not do it, I won’t know your Imam. O God! Make me know your Imam; for if you do not do it, I will go astray in my religion.’
Imams’ Infallibility in Traditions
Question no. 25: How is the Imams’ Infallibility treated with in traditions?
Stating the infallibility of Ahl al-Bayt along with their other virtues forms a large part of the Prophet’s way of life and traditions. These traditions are amply found in both Shiite and Sunnite sources. Besides, many traditions have been transmitted by Imams themselves in this regard. Here we just mention a sample of these traditions:
Hadith of Thaqalayn
Hadith or hadiths of Thaqalayn are among the most consecutive hadiths among Shiites and Sunnites. In Muslim’s Sahīh, the Prophet is quoted as saying, ‘Oh people! Verily, I am a human being whose death is approaching; I leave two invaluable things among you: the first is God’s Book and the second is my own Household.’
According to Ahmad’s Musnad, the Prophet said, ‘Verily, I leave two successors among you; one of whom is greater: God’s Book, the string between the heavens and the earth, and [the other is] my own Household. These two are inseparable until they come to me at the Pool of Kawthar.’
In Kanz al-Ummāl, it is written as follows: ‘Verily, I leave among you Thaqalayn (i.e. two great things); as long as you adhere to them, you’ll never go astray after me. [they are] God’s Book and my own Household. And they are not separated until they come to me at the Pool of Kawthar.’
In Tirmizī’s Sunan, the Prophet has been quoted as saying, ‘Oh people! I leave among you two things that if you adhere to them, you’ll never go astray; one of them is the divine Book, the Quran, and the other is my own Household.’
Mentioning the Quran and Ahl al-Bayt (the Prophet’s ‘Itrat or Household) and emphasizing the necessity to follow them as two inseparable things clearly denoting the Ahl al-Bayt’s infallibility. This is because the Quran is the infallible divine book, and being afflicted with any sin and filth would be equal to separation from the Quran. It is so clear that this hadith denotes Ahl al-Bayt’s infallibility that some of the Sunnite scholars have also acknowledged this fact.
The Egyptian scholar and author, Towfīq Abū Ilm, writes, ‘The Prophet has made his Ahl al-Bayt accompanied with the invaluable divine Book, a book that will never be afflicted with falsehood. And they will never separate. It is clear that any disagreement with the Islamic religious precept means a separation from the Quran; however, the Prophet has informed us of the inseparability of these two. Thus the [Thaqalayn] hadith clearly denotes the infallibility of Ahl al-Bayt. And the Prophet repeated this hadith on various occasions, aiming at protecting his nation and ordering them to adhere to those two so that they may not go astray.’
Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī also holds that
‘The Prophet’s Households are infallible because their inseparability from the Quran on the one hand and the necessity to follow them on the other hand are a clear reason for their being infallible and immune from error and sin. Because if they committed sins or made mistakes, they would separate from the Quran and following them would not save people from going astray. And when God says you are immune from going astray by following them, this is clear evidence for their infallibility.’
1. Ibn Abbās quotes the Prophet as saying, ‘I and Ali and Hassan and Hussein and nine of Hussein’s descendents are purified and infallible.’
2. In another tradition on describing Imam Ali and the Imams descended from him, the Prophet says, ‘Verily, they are selected by God and are infallible and immune from any sin and wrongdoing.’
3. In another tradition, the Prophet informs us of the two angels who would write Imam Ali’s deeds, and says that they have not written down any sins.
4. On Imam Ali and his offspring, the Prophet says, ‘They are immune from any sin and wrongdoing.’
5. On the features and qualifications of an Imam, Imam Ali says, ‘Verily, he is immune from any sins…he has no fault in stating religious precepts and in answering the questions. He is free from forgetfulness and mistake….people, however, turned away from learning the religious precepts from those whose obedience God made obligatory and made them immune from fault and wrongdoing.’
6. Imam Ali also says, ‘[Imam] is infallible and free from any wrongdoing, fault and any minor or major sins. He has no fault, does not commit any wrong, and does not do anything that destroys religion.’
7. On inseparability of imamate and infallibility, Imam Sajjād says, ‘Those Imams who are from us are all infallible.’
8. Imam Sādiq says, ‘He who has committed a sin, whether minor or major, does not deserve imamate, even if he repents afterwards.’
9. In describing the Prophets and their trustees, Imam Sādiq says, ‘The Prophets and their trustees have no sins, because they are infallible and pure.’ He also says, ‘Imam is purified from the sins and free from any defects… Imam is the source of sacredness, purity, worship and asceticism. Imam is descended from the pure people…. He is an infallible person supported by God, who is free from sins and faults. He is given these qualities by God to be His proof for His servants.’
10. In describing the Imam, Imam Reza says, ‘[Imam] is infallible and enjoys divine support, help and guide; he is free from any sins and errors.’
11. In one of the Jāmi’a Ziyārats quoted from Imam Hādī, we address the Infallible as follows: ‘God has made you immune from sins, purified you from defects and faults, and made you his trustees on invisible affairs….He purified you from filth and deviation and freed you from error and faults.’
12. In many of the Prophet’s traditions, Imam Ali and Ahl al-Bayt are mentioned as the axis of truth, the standard for distinguishing truth from falsehood, the ship of savior, etc.; and this is consistent only with their infallibility. One of those traditions is the following: ‘Ali is with truth, and truth is with Ali; they will not separate until they come to me on the Pool [of Kawthar] on the Day of Judgment.’
The Rational Reason for Infallibility
Question no. 26: What is the reason for Imams’ infallibility from the rational viewpoint?
In view of the Imam’s privileged position and his important functions, it seems quite evident for him to be infallible. Nevertheless, the Shiite thinkers have mentioned various reasons for this based on a rational viewpoint. Among them are the following arguments: ‘negating the purpose’, ‘decline’, ‘sequence’, ‘necessity of obedience’, ‘protecting religious law’, etc.
Anyway, it must be noted that merely rational arguments prove the Imam’s infallibility as a general rule and does not specify the instances thereof. The transmitted reasons, however, are divided into two categories: (a) general reasons, and (b) reasons specifying the instances.
Now, we briefly mention some of the rational arguments:
A) The Argument of Negating the Purpose
This argument has been variously stated. One of them is as follows:
1. Imam is the Prophet’s successor and the people’s leader, role model and their guide towards God.
2. If Imam commits any sins or faults, the purpose of his nomination is not fulfilled and the contrary is resulted.
3. Negating the purpose is impossible on the part of God All-Wise., then:
4. God immunes Imam from sins and faults.
Many theologians have paid attention to this argument and used it in proving the Imams’ infallibility.
In stating this argument, Khāja Nasīruddīn Tūsī writes, ‘One of the reasons for necessity of Imam’s infallibility is that he is the protector of religion; but if he is not infallible, this purpose will not be fulfilled.’
B) The Argument of Protecting Religion
As the previous argument, this one has also been stated in various forms, sometimes as a variation of the argument of negating the purpose. Now, we briefly mention it as follows:
1. Selecting the prophets ended with selection of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. There will be no prophet after him. Therefore, it is necessary for Islam to state all rules essential for the felicity of human beings in this and the other world.
2. It is quite clear that the Prophet, due to conditions of that time, did not have the opportunity to state all the dimensions of the religious laws for the people in his lifetime.
3. Wrong and improper interpretations of religion prepared the ground for diffusion of deviations in religion. This is amplified by passions and greed in human beings. Thus, the divine religion is always in need of a protector and explicator so that it is freed from deviation and distortion.
4. The protector of religion is either infallible or fallible. In the latter case, the problem still exits, because there is the possibility of fault and treachery in the fallible protector, and difficulties will arise in protecting religion. Thus, the protector of religion must necessarily be infallible.
5. It is impossible that God or the Prophet leave religion imperfect for the people, not specifying the right way to receive religious doctrines comprehensively.
In the Quran’s view, it is through nominating an infallible leader that Islam will be complete and comprehensive. Thus, following the proclamation of Imam Ali’s succession, God says, ‘Today I have perfected your religion for you and completed my blessings unto you, and have chosen Islam as religion for you.’
Imam Ali says, ‘Has God revealed an imperfect religion and asked them for assistance in completing it?...Or has God revealed a perfect religion and the Prophet has failed in communicating it? Not, at all.’
We may conclude that there have been, among the Muslim nation, some persons who had learned religious teachings from the Prophet or other divine channels, attempting infallibly in protecting and explaining those teachings.
What was stated above can be summed up as follows:
1. Islam is the last divine religion;
2. The last religion must be comprehensive and enjoy a proper and complete way of explaining matters;
3. In the Prophet’s lifetime, there was not enough time to explain the religion of Islam in a complete way;
4. Wrong interpretations and humans’ passions are two factors in deviation of the religion; thus:
5. The last divine religion requires protectors;
6. The protectors of the religion must be infallible;
7. It is impossible for God and the Prophet to fail in supplying and nominating the protectors of religion; thus:
8. There are always protectors of religion who are infallible and have been nominated by God;
The above arguments prove Imams’ infallibility and his immunity both from sins and faults.
The Scope of Imam’s Infallibility
Question no. 27: What is the extent of an Imam’s infallibility and what does it include? Are Imams immune just from the sins or from all faults? Is their infallibility just in religious matters or both in religious and worldly matters?
Imam’s infallibility is far-reaching just as the Prophet’s infallibility and encompasses all domains and levels of infallibility. The only point of difference between the Prophet’s infallibility and that of the Imam is in the affairs specific to the Prophet; that is, receiving the prophetic revelation and communicating it. However, infallibility is ongoing in all spheres pertaining to Imam. The theologians have classified the scope of Imam’s infallibility into three domains: infallibility in knowledge and insight, infallibility in action, and infallibility in moral traits.
1. Infallibility in Insight
One of the important and fundamental aspects of the infallibility of the Infallible is their domain of knowledge and insight. Normally, this domain is divided into the following subcategories:
a) Infallibility in knowing the religious teachings and precepts;
b) Infallibility in knowing the subject matters of religious precepts;
c) Infallibility in discerning the good and bad points of the Islamic society and the human society in general;
d) Infallibility in his daily affairs.
2. Infallibility in Action
This domain is related to the Infallible Imams’ actions and deeds. Infallibility in this domain includes the following items:
a) Infallibility in doing the religious obligations and avoiding the religiously prohibited things;
b) Infallibility in doing religiously recommended things and avoiding religiously undesirable things;
c) Infallibility in religiously permitted things, i.e. observing moderation and preserving divinely inspired motivation in using religiously permitted things.
3. Infallibility in Character
Infallibility in character and morality refers to being morally pure and freed from all moral vices, such as selfishness, greed, jealousy, niggardliness, pride, vanity, cowardice and so on.
There are also some other domains such as ‘purity from disgustful things’; that is, avoiding those things whom the majority of people disgust.
The Imams’ Knowledge
Question no. 28: What scientific sources would the Infallible Imams use to have the necessary knowledge and insight?
Imams would use various sources including the following ones:
1. The Knowledge of the Quran
An important part of the Imams’ knowledge is taken from the Holy Quran. They know well how to interpret the Quran’s verses, their inner and outer meanings, as well as the explicit and ambiguous verses.
In this regard, the Quran says, ‘They who disbelieve say you are not the Messenger of Allah; Say: Allah and whosoever has true knowledge of the scripture (i.e. the Quran) is sufficient witness between me and you.’
From this verse it is clearly understood that there is someone who enjoys all the knowledge of the Quran. Besides, the Quran is the source of all kinds of knowledge and being aware of it is a solution to all problems.
As the Quran witnesses, Āsif bin Barkhiyā, Solomon’s vizier, could manage to bring the throne of the queen of Sabā from the far south of Arabia peninsula (Yemen) to the far north of it (Syria, the center of Solomon’s government) just because he had knowledge of a part of the scripture. Certainly, he who enjoys all the knowledge of the Book can do much more important tasks. But who has the knowledge of the scripture? The Quran refers to it just implicitly.
In a tradition quoted from Ibn Abbās, we read, ‘The one who has the knowledge of the Quran is Ali; he knows the Quran’s interpretation, exegesis, and the abrogating and abrogated verses.’
2. Receiving from the Prophet
The second source of knowledge for the Infallible Imams is ‘inheriting from the Prophet’; that is, the Prophet taught Imam Ali all the Islamic laws and teachings. In Islamic traditions, we read that the Prophet taught Imam Ali one thousand chapters of knowledge from each of which one thousand of other chapters would arise.
In this regard, there are numerous traditions in Kāfī collection of traditions. In a tradition quoted from Abū Basīr, he asked Imam Sādiq, ‘Your followers say the Prophet taught Imam Ali one chapter of knowledge from which one thousand of other chapters would arise.’ Imam Sādiq said, ‘The Prophet taught Imam Ali one thousand chapters of knowledge (not just one) from each of which one thousand of other chapters would arise.’
According to some traditions, Imam Ali wrote down those sciences to be inherited to the next Infallible Imams generation by generation.
3. Receiving from the Angels
Among the sources of knowledge for the Imams is their communication with the angels. This, however, does not mean that they were receiving revelations like the prophets, because the legal revelation ended with the Prophet’s death; the Imams were like Khizr, Dhul-Qarnayn and Saint Mary who were, according to the Quranic verses, in contact with divine angels and received truths from the invisible world. In a transmitted tradition, Imam Bāqir says, ‘Verily, [Imam] Ali was a muhaddith who were spoken to mysteriously.’ He was asked, ‘Who would speak to him?’ Imam replied, ‘Angels would speak to him.’ Again, he was asked, ‘Was he a prophet?’ Imam shook his hand as a gesture for negative answer and replied, ‘He was like Solomon’s friend (Āsif bin Barkhiyā), or Moses’ companion (Yūsha’ or Khizr) or Dhul-Qarnayn.’
There are numerous other traditions in this regard.
4. Inspiration by Holy Spirit
The fourth source for Imams’ knowledge is the Holy Spirit’s grace. In the Quran, the supports of the ‘Holy Spirit’ have been frequently referred to. Three of these verses are about Jesus Christ and one of them is about the Prophet Muhammad.
A lot has been said by the Quran’s commentators on who or what the Holy Spirit is. Some hold he is the angel Gabriel. In regard with the Christ, it has been interpreted as the holy and pure soul inside him or the Bible revealed to him. Some others have held that by the Holy Spirit, it is meant the Highest Name of God by which the Christ would revive the dead.
From the expressions used in the Quran and traditions, we understand that the ‘Holy Spirit’ has various applications and meanings:
a) In the verse 102 of the chapter 16 (Nahl) of the Quran, we read, ‘Say: the Holy Spirit has revealed it from your Lord with truth…’; here, the ‘holy spirit’ apparently refers to the angle Gabriel who would reveal the Quran to the Prophet from God.
b) In three other verses of the Quran, all about the Christ, the ‘holy spirit’ has another meaning, because the two expressions ‘when I supported you with the holy spirit’, and ‘we supported him with the holy spirit’ show that it was a sacred spirit always accompanying the Christ, supporting and strengthening him. It is also possible that in all these cases the ‘holy spirit’ refers to the same reality with different functions.
The traditions transmitted from the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt show well that the ‘holy spirit’ was a sacred spirit accompanying all the prophets and conveying God’s assistance to them on various occasions. There are numerous traditions transmitted by Sunnite sources that quote the Prophet as saying ‘…this was by the holy spirit’s assistance’ when someone would compose good poems or would do great tasks.
Imam Bāqir enumerates the five spirits existing in the Prophets, then says, ‘…through the holy spirit, they (the prophets) know what is under the divine throne and what is under the earth.’
On the same subject, there are numerous other traditions in different collections of traditions that may not be mentioned here.
5. The Divine Light
The fifth source for Imams’ knowledge is the divine light referred to in numerous traditions. Hassan bin Rāshid says, “I heard Imam Sādiq as saying ‘when an Imam dies, God lights up a luminous lights for the next Imam, by which he sees people’s actions. In this way, God completes his proof for the people.’”
On one occasion, one of Imam Hādī’s companions called Hārūn bin Fudayl was with him. Suddenly, Imam said, ‘Verily, we are Allah’s and we return to Him. Abī Ja’far (Imam Jawād) passed away’. I asked Imam, ‘how did you know this?’ He replied, ‘I felt a feeling of humbleness before God that I had not experienced before.’
From what we stated up to here, it is well understood that the Imams’ sources of knowledge are various and numerous. These sources give them flawless knowledge on everything so that they can carry out their divine missions including the following ones: protecting and explaining Islam, the Quran, and the Prophet’s Sunnah; guiding people towards God; training the people’s souls; exerting the divine ordained punishments; and managing different affairs.
Imam and the Flawless Source
Question no. 29: How is the Imam’s relationship with the flawless sources [of knowledge]?
Based on traditions, Imams receive mysterious inspirations. They hear mysterious sounds; but they do not see the angels. This is unlike the Prophet who would hear the angel and would sometimes see the angel as well.
This inspiration is similar to the inspiration received by Khizr, Moses, Dhul-Qarnayn, Saint Mary, the Moses’ mother. This is sometimes called Wahy (i.e. ‘revelation’) by the Quran, which however does not mean the prophetic revelation.
In a long tradition on Imamate, Imam Reza says, ‘When God Almighty selects someone as Imam for people, He grants him tolerance, putting the sources of wisdom in his heart and inspiring the knowledge to him so that he may not fail in answering any questions and will not wander in discerning the truth. He will be then infallible, supported by God, and immune from any errors and faults.’
Hassan bin Yahyā of Madā’in says, “I asked Imam Sādiq, ‘When an Imam is asked a question, how will he answer it?’ Imam replied, ‘Sometimes, he receives inspirations, sometimes he hears the answer from an angel, and sometimes both of them.’”
It must be noted that Imam enjoys the supreme essence of his age; he is positioned on the highest point and the zenith of the existence. Thus, Imam’s inner state – just like the Prophet’s – is lightened by the light of the Truth’s authority, and he is in contact with the world of invisible truths and meanings.
Just like the Prophet, Imam is also a medium for conveying divine grace to the people, an agent for people’s relationship with God, and a protector for sanctuary of revelation and religious laws. However, he is not a prophet; in other words, he has not been given any prophetic mission by God.
In this regard, Imam Reza says, ‘The difference between an Imam and a prophet is that a prophet sees the angel of revelation, hears his voice, and receives the revelations. Sometime he sees something in a dream, just as the prophet Abraham dreamt, and sometimes sees the angel in addition to hearing his voice. Imam, however, does not see the angel; he just hears the angel.’
Of course, according to some interpretations, this hearing is of intellectual nature; that is, he does not hear the angel with his ears; rather, he receives the divine teachings inwardly. This is because some ‘truths’ are conveyed to divine saints through divine words; and this may be non-literal.
Meaning of Inspiration
Literally, inspiration (Ilhām) means infusing some matters into one’s soul. According to some commentaries, inspiration has two senses: ‘general’ and ‘specific’. In the specific sense, inspiration is specified to God’s saints and trustees, whether inspired through a medium or directly.
The indirect inspiration is done through a voice heard by the addressee. This occurs like a dream in the first stages of the prophets’ missions and is considered a ‘hidden revelation’. But the direct inspiration is “infusing the truths and meaning from the invisible world into the divine saints’ hearts, which may happen suddenly or gradually.”
In the general sense, inspiration is sometimes done through a medium and sometimes without it; it is sometimes real and sometimes unreal. The real inspiration with a medium is acquired through purification of the soul. The unreal inspiration without a medium is obtained by persons who have a particular talent (such as Brahmans, priests, and monks), based on some special racial or geographical features.
Some have considered inspiration specific to ‘sainthood’ and revelation specific to ‘prophethood’. They hold that inspiration is just of a merely spiritual intuitional nature. Thus revelation is specific to prophets and is outward, but inspiration is related to the saints and is inward. In this view, inspiration is higher than revelation in rank; in addition, revelation is contingent upon missionary work, while inspiration is no so.
One basic difference between revelation and inspiration, however, lies in the fact that the prophet sees the angel while receiving the revelation; but in inspiration, Imam just feels the angel’s presence without seeing him.
On the whole, we may say that what is infused into the prophet’s heart (or mind) as the religious law is conveyed by an angel sometimes observable for the prophet; and this is specific to the prophets. However, since the prophet enjoys the position of sainthood as well, he enjoys other types of divine inspirations too. Such inspirations – shared by Imams, saints and prophets – are not revelations in the particular sense and pertain to the inward aspect (i.e. sainthood).
Another basic difference between revelation and inspiration is that revelation, due to its peculiar character, is always immune from the Satan’s manipulations. The prophets are under God’s protection in all the stages of perceiving, receiving and understanding the revelation, unlike some sorts of inspirations which are satanic and are not always immune from faults. However, since the Imams are infallible, their inspirations are real and divine; they are immune from faults in receiving and perceiving the divine inspirations.
The Scope of Imam’s Knowledge
Question no. 30: What is the source of the Imams’ exotic knowledge? Are their sayings reliable in empirical sciences as well?
One of the features of the high rank of the Imams is their exotic knowledge. Since Imamate is closely related with prophethood, an Imam is the true heir of all prophet’s knowledge and books. Imam Sādiq says, ‘All the celestial books belonging to the previous prophets are at our disposal. We have inherited them. We read them exactly as they would read them, and we speak of those books as they would speak of them. The earth will never be void of divine proof, and he (Imam) will never say ‘I don’t know’ in answering a question.’
Imam’s unlimited knowledge is a definite feature for him because of his position of authority. In this regard, Imam Ali says, ‘We Ahl al-Bayt are the tree of prophethood, the qualified position for divine mission, the place for the angels’ commuting, the home of mercy, and the entirety of knowledge and cultivation.’
Imams’ knowledge is everlasting and perpetual. This knowledge is continuously in contact with its invisible source, regularly increasing and being reinforced. Imam Bāqir says, ‘If our knowledge was not increasing, we would be left without knowledge.’
Imam Mūsā bin Ja’far says, ‘Imam’s knowledge has three aspects: knowledge of the past, knowledge of the future, and newly emerging knowledge.’
Since Imam is positioned in the highest point of existence, he has intuitive knowledge of all sciences, knowledge that leaves no place for uncertainty and doubt. Thus, it is the only knowledge free from faults and errors.
Imam Sādiq was asked, ‘How do you become aware of the undisputed knowledge which is specific to Imams?’ Imam replied, ‘Our awareness of this undisputed knowledge is just like the Prophet’s awareness; the only difference is that we do not see what the Prophet would see.’
It is because of this existential position that Imam Ali said, ‘Ask me before you miss me.’ Surprisingly, Imam Ali did not point to any specific knowledge; and this is clear evidence of the fact that Imam Ali was the greatest knowledgeable man aware of all sciences and their mysteries. He had reached the highest rank in all sciences – including theology, exegesis, reciting the Quran, jurisprudence, hadith, ethics, judicature, oratory and other literary sciences, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, etc.
It is worth noting that Imams’ knowledge is originated from divine knowledge; so their scientific statements are with God’s permission and is realized where they request it from God for guiding people or some other purposes.
Imam Ali and the Empirical Sciences
Many people in the early years of Islam held that the earth is situated on a bull’s horn. Some others believed it to be floating on water and that it was hollow.
Some also believed that the earth had columns situated on the Mount Qāf. Imam Ali, however, stated a fact – in an age when no one was aware of the earth’s gravity – which is axiomatic today: ‘God created the earth and held it without being busy; He stilled it while it was unquiet, and established it without any base and pillar.’
In some other sermons, he describes the earth and says, ‘He (God) opened around the earth and made some hallow spaces; He made water waves flow on it, carried on a strong storm. Afterward, He ordered the storm to return the water…’
This is the very theory proved today after centuries: the earth has been ringed with a layer of air called atmosphere divided into several layers; all changes in weather occur in that layer, and rain, wind, clouds, storms, etc. are created there. The scientific instruments were unable to prove Imam Ali’s doctrines in his lifetime. There may be some other facts stated by Imam Ali that have not been proved today or they may even seem contrary to human findings; however, they will be proved in the future. This is because empirical sciences are subject to change.
Nevertheless, we believe that Imams, due to their special existential rank, enjoy – by God’s permission – knowledge of what there was, what there is, and what there will be.
Knowledge of One’s Martyrdom
Question no. 31: Why would Imams, in spite of their knowledge of the mysteries and the invisible world, eat poisonous things that would lead to their martyrdom?
To answer this question, it is better to note the following points:
A) Although Imams are aware of the past, the present and the future, their obligation is based on the normal knowledge possessed by ordinary people. In other words, their knowledge of the unknown world does not generate any obligations for them. For example, Imam sees some fruits which can be eaten with no difficulty according to normal knowledge, though he knows they are poisonous out of his own knowledge. Here it is permissible for him to eat the fruits. As the proof for this, two reasons have been mentioned:
1. Acting according to one’s knowledge of unknown mysteries, in some cases, is contrary to the philosophy of the prophetic mission or the Imams’ nomination. Otherwise, they would lose their function as the role model for ordinary people. In that case, other people would avoid doing their individual and social obligations on the excuse that they do not have such knowledge.
2. Acting always according to unusual knowledge will cause a disorder in affairs; this is because God’s will is based on the system of natural cause and effect as well as the normal human knowledge. Thus, the Prophets would not use their unusual knowledge for curing themselves or their associates. Perhaps preventing this very disorder is one of the reasons for prohibition of resorting to astrology, exorcism, and the like for augury and predicting future events.
B) Although Imams – according to many traditions – had the knowledge of past, present and future, this knowledge was not – according to some other traditions – actualized; indeed, God would give them that knowledge whenever they wished to know something. This fact is stated in a tradition as follows, ‘Whenever Imam wishes to know something, God will make him aware of it.’ Thus, Imam may not be aware of his martyrdom with all the related details, because he has not wished to be aware. In addition, knowing such things may hinder one’s humane perfection. Accordingly, some have said if Imam Ali was aware that no danger would threaten his life in ‘Layla al-Mabīt’, this would not be considered a virtuous action on his part.
C) The Prophet and the infallible Imams have their specific obligations; thus they had the duty to fight in a war though they knew the enemy would be victorious. And though they knew what they do would lead to their martyrdom, they would act according to their duty to achieve higher goals – just as Imam Hussein did so.
D) Some of these cases (such as eating the poisonous fruits) were forced and with no volition on the part of Imams. Thus, although they knew eating the fruit would kill them, they had no other choice. This answer is supported by historical evidences as well.
E) Allāma Tabātabā’ī holds that Imam’s knowledge of the mysterious and unknown events is only for those events which are definite and inevitable. In that case, avoiding the action or acting against it is meaningless. In other words, Imam – by God’s permission – becomes aware of what is about to happen definitely. So he may not do anything to stop it. Furthermore, Imam is destined to acquire ranks and positions of perfection whose path is through these very difficulties and troubles.
Affection for the Ahl al-Bayt
Question no. 32: How important is affection for the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and how is it acquired?
Affection means human’s interest in and leaning towards something (or someone). When this affection is strong and by heart, it is called love. The status of affection for Ahl al-Bayt must be taken from the Quran and traditions.
As for the importance and special status of loving Ahl al-Bayt, it is worth noting that the Quran regards it the only reward for the Prophet’s mission: ‘Say [O Muhammad] I ask you no fee for my mission except loving my Household.’
The Holy Prophet says, ‘None of you believes in God except those for whom I am more favored than their children, their father and all other people.’
Still in another tradition, the Prophet says, ‘None of God’s servants believes in Him except those for whom I am more favored than him, my children are more favored than his children, and my household is more favored than his household, and my soul is more favored than his soul.’
Thus, one’s love for Ahl al-Bayt must be of a high degree; and to the extent this love is lower, one’s faith is weaker. In other words, the degrees of one’s faith are measured according to one’s degree of love for the Prophet and his Ahl al-Bayt.
Loving Ahl –al-Bayt in Practice
Imam Bāqir says to Jābir, ‘O Jābir! Give my compliments to my followers and tell them there is no kinship between us and God Almighty, and anyone gets closer to God just through serving and worshiping Him. O Jābir! Whoever obeys God and loves us is our friend and lover. And whoever disobeys God, our love would have no benefit for him.’
Thus, the first condition for loving Ahl al-Bayt is obeying God and avoiding sins. Someone may have the lowest level of affection, but he may be a sinful person as well. In that case, loving Ahl al-Bayt has no benefit for him. Committing casual sins, however, would not – if followed by penitence – have such an effect.
Imam Ali says, ‘I and the Prophet, along with my household, dominate the Pool of Kawthar. Thus, whoever who wants to be with us must obey our orders and act like us….’
The Ways to Acquire Affection for Ahl al-Bayt
1. Knowing Ahl al-Bayt: in the light of knowing Imams, we will learn their characters and attributes much more. And this knowledge will naturally lead to affection and love.
Imam Sādiq says, ‘Imam is the very index and clear standard situated between God and His creatures. Whoever knows him, will be a believer; and whoever denies him, will be an infidel.’
2. Obeying Ahl al-Bayt: Someone who acquires enough knowledge of Ahl al-Bayt will necessarily obey them. However, knowing Ahl al-Bayt may sometimes be of a low level; in that case, the person may disobey them. To the extent someone disobey Ahl al-Bayt, he may grow a grudge against them, and vice versa.
Imam Reza says, ‘O God! I request you the action that coveys your love to me.’ Thus, one of the practical ways to achieve love for Ahl al-Bayt is the principle of action and obedience.
3. Invocation along with Knowledge: in the light of knowing Imams, we learn that everything we possess is dependent on them, and they are the mediums of God’s grace for our perfection. If invocation is accompanied with knowledge and thought, it will be an amorous and mystical song which fosters true love in one’s heart.