Rafed English

The Imamate

It is question of the Imamate which distinghishes the Shi'a sect from all other sects; it is the basic and fundamental difference which separates this school from other schools of thought. Other differences are not fundamental; they are "furu'i" (that is they are concerned with the details of the code of writing and action). Such differences of secondary importance are present between the views of the Imams (religious heads) of the majority community of the Muslims. For instance, a large number of the Hanafi laws do not correspond with the laws of Shafi'is. According to the Imamiyah sect, the Imamate is the rank of the Perfect Man; like prophethood it is sustained by Almighty God for the guidance of the people. The Shi'as believe that Almighty God ordered His Prophet (s.a.w.) to appoint 'Ali ibn 'Abi Talib (a.s.) as his successor, so that after the end of Prophethood the mission of spreading Islam might be continued. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) knew that this appointment would be looked at with displeasure by others. Many of them would think that it was due merely to brotherly love or undue regard for his son-in-law.

It is quite obvious tha from the beggining of the Islamic era until the present age of the Muslims have in genral not truely followed the Holy Prophet's guidance. The All-powerful declared in very clear words: "Oh Prophet, deliver immediately what you have been commanded to from your Lord and if you do it not, then (it will be as if) you have not delivered His message (at all)". Accordingly after his last hajj the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) gathered the people at "Ghadir al-Khum" and addressed them thus: "Am I not better than every believer present here?" Then all of them said with one voice: "Certainly, O Prophet of God. You are superior to all of us."

After this testimony of allegiance the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) said; "Whoever has accepted me as his master, then 'Ali is his master ..." Moreover, on various other occasions, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) clearly explained the reality of the Imamate, sometimes by implication and sometimes quite openly. The Prophet thus performed his duty and God's command his duty and God's command was carried out. As soon as the Holy Prophet had breathed his last breath some Muslims presumptuously tried to hide the reality of the Imamate. They misconstrued the open declaration, and through their personal interpretation began to make changes in the religious commands. The result is well known as we have seen.

However 'Ali (a.s.) and his group, which comprised high-ranking sahaba (companions) kept aloof from this selfish struggle for power and refused to offer allegiance.

Amir al-Mu'minin (a.s.) remained silent for some time, out of consideration for Islamic unity, but when Mu'awiyah tried to bring the Islamic rule and authority under his subjugation and started destructive activities, Amir al-Mu'minin set himself against him; supporting a man like Mu'awiyah and tolerating his wrong policies would have been a deadly poison for Islam, and it was the foremost duty of Hadhrat 'Ali (a.s.) to protect the divine religion.

The Imamiyah believe that spiritually they are with 'Ali (a.s) and are his followers; anyone who takes 'Ali as a friend, we too are friends of that person, and of whoever takes 'Ali (a.s.) as an enemy, we also are his enemy. This faith is based on the Holy Prophet's words: "Oh God, be a friend of the one who loves 'Ali (a.s.) and be an enemy of the one who is an enemy of 'Ali (a.s.)."

The Imamiyah Shi'as believe that Almighty God never leaves the world without a Prophet or an Imam whether this "proof of God" is apparent or hidden. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), through an explicit ordinance, made 'Ali al-Murtadha (a.s.) his successor. 'Ali (a.s.) made al-Hasan (a.s.) his successor, and Imam al-Hasan (a.s.) made his brother Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) his successor. In this way this chain continued until the eleventh Imam. The Eleventh spiritual guide Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a.s.) was succeeded by his son the twelfth Imam, the Imam of the Age, the Awaited One (a.s.), vicegerent of God. This belief is not an innovation of the Shi'as, rather it is a divine practice, which started with Adam (a.s.) and continued until the last Prophet (s.a.w.).

There are innumerable books written by eminent 'ulama' on this topic. We give below the names of some 'ulama of early centuries who have written on the topic of "wasiyah" (succession).

1). Hisham ibn al-Hakam.
2). Husayn ibn Sa'id.
3). 'Ali ibn Miskini
4). 'Ali ibn al-Mughirah
5). 'Ali ibn Husayn ibn Fadhl.
6). Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn Sa'id.
7). Ahmad ibn Muhammad Khalid al-Barqi, the author of "al-Mahasin".
8). The great historian 'Abdu 'l-'Aziz ibn Yahya al-Judi.

Most of these writers belong to the first and second centuries, but the number of writing from authors of the third century hijri is also large:

1). Yahya ibn Mustafad.
2.) Muhammad ibn Ahmad as-Sabuni
3.) 'Ali ibn Ra'ab
4.) Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Farukh
5.) The well known historian 'Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas'udi, the author of "Muruj adh-Dhahab".
6.) Shaykh at-Ta'ifah Muhammad ibn al-Hasan at-Tusi
7.) Muhammad ibn 'Ali ash-Shalmaghani
8.) Musa ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Amir

Books written after the fourth century can hardly be counted.

Al-Mas'udi wrote in his famous book "Ithbatu 'l-wasiyah": "Every prophet had twelve successors". The writer also gave the names of all of them, and wrote brief life-sketches of each; at the end of the work he writes in more detail about the twelve Imams.

The Shi'as have been the target of attack from both Muslim and non-Muslim groups concerning the existence of the twelfth Imam. We should thus like to explain the reality of this belief in a few words. Those who object think that the Shi'as believe in a baseless and ridiculous thing. When we examine the view-point of these critics however we find that it is based on two rather navie doubts; the first being "How can a person naturally live for more than a thousand years?" and the second, "What advantage is gained from his disappearance?" or "What is the use of a hidden Imam whose existence and non-existence are both equal?" As to the first doubt, we should like to draw the reader's attention to the prophet Nuh's age. According to clear Qur'anic statements the prophet Nuh live for nine hundred and fifty years, calling the people to God among his nation; according to the opinion stated by the 'ulama' his age was at least one thousand six hundred years, and a number of other scholars have gone so far as to say that he lived to be three thousand years old. The scholars of hadith of the majority community also acknowledge the longevity of other persons besides Nuh (a.s.). The great scholar an-Nuwi in his book "Tahdhibu 'l-Asma" writes: "Though there is a difference of opinion among the 'ulama' about the age and the Prophethood of Hadhrat Khidr (a.s.), the majority of scholars admit that Khidr is still present with us. The Sufis, moreover, unanimously declare that he is still alive, and innumerable stories about his meetings with people, and about what was said at these meetings, are quite well-known."

Shaykh Abu 'Umar ibn Salah writes in his "Fatwas": "The majority of the 'ulama' decided that Hadhrat Khidr is alive, but some of the scholars of hadith do not accept it." I seem to recall that in another work Shaykh Abu 'Umar wrote (and az-Zamakhshari also has written this in his Rabi'u 'l-abrar) that the Muslims are unanimous in their belief that four prophets (a.s.) are still alive among us. Two of them are in the sky, that is 'Isa (a.s.) and Idris (a.s.), and two are on the earth and these are Khidr and Ilyas. Hadhrat Khidr was born in the time of Ibrahim Khalilu 'llah (a.s.). Thus we have clear proof of the existence of persons who lived for hundreds of years. 'Allamah as-Sayyid al-Murtadha has written in his "Imali" about persons who have lived to a great age and ash-Shaykh as-Saduq has given an even a longer list in his "Kamal ad-Din". Even in the present age we find some people who have lived for a hundred and thirty years, and some for even longer.

Logically we may pose the question: "If someone is capable of living to an abnormal age, say a hundred and thirty, then is it possible that in extraordinary conditions a man may live to be a thousand?" At the most you can call it something super-normal. Moreover, is super-normality in the case of Prophets and the "awliyah" (those near to God) a particularly strange thing?

If one turns over the pages of th old volumes of "Majallatu 'l-Muqtatif", you will find that they are full of articles written by western scholars who have scientifically proved that man can theoretically attain eternal life in this world. Some western thinkers even says: "If Ibn Muljim's sword had not struck 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.), he would have lived forever. We are justified in this supposition because the Holy Imam was endowed with such qualities of excellence and healthy living." Much could be added on this topic but the scope of this book does not allow further discussion.

Concerning the second objection, we might ask whether it is fitting that the Muslim nation should know every detail of divine will and intention. Is it necessary to know all the secrets of the world and of the religious commands? Before demanding such knowledge we must carefully think whether under the screen of some outwardly incomprehensible divine command there is also hidden some other secret. For example, a stone, in itself, neither benefits nor harms man. Nevertheles, we kiss the Hajaru 'l-Aswad (the back stone in the Ka'bah). What is the wisdom hidden behind that, we may ask.
The "maghrib" prayers are offered in three rak'ahs (units); the "isha'" prayers are performed in four units. The morning prayers consist of only two units. What expediency is there in this difference of units?

Rather we must realise that there are a large number of matters of which neither archangel nor prophet has any knowledge; concerning the knowledge of the last hour, God, the Almighty says: "Verily God alone has knowledge of the Hour, the Day of Judgement and when it will rain." Apart from this, there are many other things which have been kept secret from us and their justification is unknown; we may refer, for example, to "ismu 'l-'azam" (the Greatest Name), "laylatu 'l-qadr" (the time for the acceptance of Invocation). We would like to make clear by the above examples that one need not be amazed at those divine matters whose wisdom is not apparent. Rather, we should recognise that an order or action exists, and act accordingly as believing Muslims.

If something is proved by the authentic statements of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) and his infallible successors, we must accept it. There is no other opinion: to enter into an argument about the nature of wisdom and man's obligation to find a reason for everything would be in vain. As far as possible we have deliberately not provided arguments and proofs in this small booklet; there are already large volumes in which these points have been discussed in detail; likewise we examine the "Qa'im Al-Muhammad", the presently existing descendant of Muhammad (s.a.w.). There are a great number of authentic traditions concerning the "qiyam" of al-Mahdi (the rising of the twelfth Imam) in books of knowledge of both sects.

Though we acknowledge the fact that God knows better the wisdom about the occultation of Imam al-Mahdi, we would nevertheless point out that a number of rational proofs have already been given in reply to some Shi'a questionners. The decisive fact to bear in mind is that in every age the existence of an Imam is necessary; the world cannot remain without a divinely appointed guide; his very existence is blessing for mankind, and his authority over us is also a blessing. The question of the wisdom hidden in this action of God's is thus invalid (a blessing cannot be rationalised) and acknowledgment of the "ghaybah" (occultation) is a necessary duty of every obedient Muslim.

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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