Rafed English

The Meaning of Imamate

Adopted from the Book : "Shi'ism; Imamate and Wilayat" by : "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"

In the same speech, the learned scholar further explains the meaning of Imamate by saying :

"The belief system says anybody who had any right to claim obedience after the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is 'Ali bin Abi Talib. That is the meaning of Imamate; it is nothing more than that. You open any book of kalam, you will find theologians describing Imam 'Ali as having the right to become muta,' obeyed, one should be obeyed by the people. Why should he be obeyed? Because he is exactly sitting in the place of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) ...

"Imam 'Ali ws the Imam from the day the Prophet Muhammad closed his eyes. Regardless whether he became a khalifa or not. How can he become an Imam without becoming a khalifa, without sitting on the throne? That was not the requirement. Because the obedience was to the position of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)."

In order to defend his writing in the Bio Ethics Encyclopaedia, the learned scholar has divided "imamate" and "khalifat" into two different realms: "imamate" becomes a spiritual position while "khalifat" becomes a political position. He says, "Imamate is nothing more than that" and even bodly asks the audience to "open any book of kalam [theology] ..."

Well, we opened the books of kalam from different eras and found the statement of the learned scholar to be against the mainstream Shi'a belief on the meaning and scope of "imamate".

Shaykh Mufid (d. 413 A.H./1022 C.E.) defines an "Imam" as follows : "The Imam is the person who has the comprehensive leadership in religious as well as worldly matters as the succeessor of the Prophet (as)."1

Allama Hilli (d. 726 A.H / 1325 C.E.) defines Imamate" as follows: "The Imamate is a universal authority (riyasa) in the things of religion and of the world belonging to some person and derived from (niyyaba) the Prophet."2

Abdu r-Razzaq Lahiji (d. 1072 A.H.) defines "Imamate" as follows "Know that Imamte is an authority over all those who are of legal age in worldly as well as religious matter based on successorship of the Prophet.3

Allamah Tabataba'i (d. 1401 A.H. / 1981) writes, "Thus the imamate and religius lerdership in Islam may be strdied from three different perspectives: from the perspective of Islamic government, of Islamic sciences and injunctions, and of lerdership and innovatives guidance in the spiritual life. Shi'ism believes that since Islamic society is in dire need of guidance in each of these three aspects, the person who occupies the function of giving that guidance and is the lerder of the community in these areas of religious concern must be appointed by God and the Prophet,"4 Even Murtaza Mutahhari states that when the Shi'as use the term "Imam", it does not only reflect the spiritual guidance and leadership, it includes the social and political leadership also.5

As you can see, all these theologians and prominent scholars of the Shi'a faith unanimously difine Imamte as a position that combines the spiritual/religious leadership as well as the socio-political/wordly leadership. For a Shi'a 'Ali is the first Imam as well as the first khalifa of the Prophet. A Shi'a would never say that 'Ali is the first Imam but not the khalifa bila fasl (immediate successor) of the Prophet. The difference between Shi'a and the Sunnis is not about the spiritual leadership; it is on the sociopolitical leadership immediately after the Prophet. As mentioned earlier, the view that the Ahlul Bayt were "spiritual guides only but not political leaders" is a belief found among the Sunnis in the general and the Sufis in particular.6

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1. Al-Mufid, an-Nukatu l'-I tiqadiyya in vol.10 of Musannafat ash-Shaykh al-Mufid (Qum: Mu'assasa Ali l-Bayt 1413) p.39.

2. AL-Hilli, al-Babu 'l-Hadi 'Ashar [Qum: Nashr Nawid,1368 AH solar] p.184; also see its English translation A Treatise on the principles of Shi'ite Thought, tr William Miller (London: Royal Asiatic Society,1958) p.62

3. Lahiji, Sarmaya-e Iman (Qum : Intisharat-e az-Zahram, 1372 AH solar)p.107.

4. Tabataba'i, Shi'a Islam, tr.Nasr (Qum: Ansariyan,1989) p.173.

5. Mutahhari, Wilaya, p.72.

6. See p.90-91.

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