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The Fundamentals of the Religion

Before we deal with the roots and the articles of faith in detail, we may divide our study of the Shi'a religion according to five principles:

1. Knowledge of God.
2. Identification of His Prophet.
3. How to worship.
4. Doing good actions and refraining from bad ones.
5. Belief in ma'ad (the Day of Judgement), and punishment and reward.

There are two parts to religion -theoretical and practical- or, more precisely, belief or faith in God and the unseen, and daily action based on this belief.

Tawhid (monotheism), Prophethood and ma'ad (the Day of Judgement) are the three basic arkan (pillars) of Islam. If anyone denies one of these arkan, he is neither a Muslim nor a believer (mu'min); if he does believe in them he will be counted among the Muslims according to God Almighty (refer to the following words which have been taken from the Quranic text: "He who believes in God, His Prophet and the Day of Judgement"), and shall be entitled to all the rights of the Muslims. According to the holy verse the Muslim is the "one who believes in God, His Prophet and also performs good actions"; the "iman" (faith) of a Muslim refers to "belief in his heart, verbal acknowledgement and performance of fundamental acts". One may add another "rukn" (pillar) to these three, which is the obligatory acts are of five kinds: (1) salat (prayers), (2) fasting, (3) zakat (generally speaking, the Islamic system of taxation); (4) hajj and (5) jihad (striving or exerting oneself (even to the extent of fighting for Islam).

We may explain the difference between Islam and iman as a matter of degree. This difference is based on the words of God Almighty in the surah "al-Hujurat", "The Arabs say: "We have iman!' Say (to them , O Muhammad): 'You do not have iman; but say "we have accepted Islam (aslana: lit. we have submitted)", for iman has not yet entered your hearts.'" For further elucidation, He says in another verse: "Verily, the believers (mu'minin) are those who accepted faith in God and His Prophet and never after that entertained any doubt; also they performed jihad with their life and wealth in the way of God -they alone are the true believers." "Iman" thus means the combination of testifying one's belief, and of acting in accordance with it. These are the basic beliefs of all the Muslim. The Shi'as have another "rukn" thus bringing the total to five principles. This fifth pillar is faith in the imamate.

According to the Shi'a point of view, the Imamate, like Prophethood, is divine vicegerency. Just as it is God Almighty Who close one from amongst His servants for the rank of Prophethood or Messengership, in the same way it is God Who chooses the Imams. God Almighty Himself commanded His Prophet to announce the Imamate (spiritual leadership) of the selected person before his death.

The Prophet, according to divnine command, chose a leader for mankind to protect and complete the religious code. The only difference between a Prophet and an Imam is that the Prophet receives "wahy" (revelation) from God, while the Imam, through a special blessing, receives commands from the prophet. So the prophet is the messenger of God and the Imam is the messenger of the Prophet.

The Imamate comprises twelve perfect persons, and every Imam appoints his successor by a specific indication (nass). Like all Prophets, the Imams are also infallible; there is no possibility of their committing any sin. The infallibility of the Imam is clearly proved from what God Alimighty says in the holy Quran: "Verily, I make you an Imam for mankind. He (Abraham) said: "And of my offspring?" He said: "My covenant does not reach to the unjust."

Moreover, an Imam is superior to all men in all matters of knowledge and character, since the very purpose of the Imamate is that humanity may be exalted to the highest stage and may be adorned with knowledge and good actions through the imitation of the Imam. What has been said in the Holy Quran about Prophethood (that the Prophets have been sent to people as His signs, to teach them the Book and Wisdom), is equally applicable to an Imam too, because an imperfect person cannot make another person perfect. What can someone give to another, when he does not posses anything himself? A misguided man cannot guide another man. Judged accordingly, an Imam is a little below the Prophet, but over every human being.

Anyone who believes in the Imamate is called, according to the Shi'a terminology, a "mu'min" (a man of faith and trust) in the special sense. Anyone who acknowledges the four fundamentals, which are the centre of faith of all the Muslims, is called a "Muslim" and a "mu'min" in a general sense; as has been said earlier, all Islamic laws apply to him: the protection of his life, property, respect and honour is obligatory. By only refusing to acknowledge the Imamate, a person cannot be excluded from the Islamic fold. Of course, on the Day of Judgement, and in the stages of nearness to God and "karamat" (miraculous signs), the Shi'a faith will reveal its excellence over the Islam of the majority.

All Muslims are equal in the world and are brothers, but in the next world there will certainly be a difference of ranks. People will be accorded positions according to their performance and intention. The final decision is in God's hands in these matters, and it is therefore better for us not to involve ourselves.

We have explained that that which distinguishes the Shi'a from the Sunni Muslims is their belief in the Imamate of the Twelve Imams, and it is for this reason that this sect is called "Imamiyah, because the word Shi'a applies to the Zaydiyah, the Isma'iliyah, the Waqifiyah and the Fathiyah as well. These are sects which are counted as Muslim. But a more careful study of other sects will show that there are many which are totally excluded from Islam, but which, nevertheless, are sometimes still called Shi'a as, for instance, the Khitabiyah, who are an example of the hundred or more sects which cannot be regarded as Muslim. At the present time, however, the word of Shi'a specifically refers to the Imamiyah sect, which is the biggest body of Muslims in the world of Islam after the Sunnis.

In Islamic learning, faith in the twelve Imams is not anything new; it is referred to in all reliable and authentic books by Muslim authors. The Imams Muslim and al-Bukhari narrated traditions concerning the twelve Imams in their Sahihs in different ways. A few of them are given here:

1. Jabir ibn Smarah says, "One day when I went to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) along with my father, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) said: "The universe shall not come to an end until all the twelve caliphs have appeared.' After this the Prophet (s.a.w.) said something silently, which I could not hear. I asked my father what the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.) had said. He said: "The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) says that all of them shall be from the Quraysh.""

2. Another tradition says: "So long as there are the twelve authorities, the Muslims will continue to exist."

3. Again: "So long as there are the twelve caliphs, the grandeur and majesty of Islam shall live on.

4. God knows who these twelve caliphs are. The Holy Prophet's statement that "after me the caliphate shall remain for thirty years, then it will become the object of deceit and fraud" is well known to all Muslims both Shi'a and Sunni.

We do not want to enter into discussion and arguments concerning this topic. If anyone seeks a complete proof of the existence of the twelve Imams, he can study the thousands of volumes devoted to this subject.

Adopted from the book: "The Origin of the Shi'ite Islam and its Principles (Asl ash-Shi'ah wa Usuluh" by: "Allamah Kashiful Ghita"

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