What are the main differences between these terms and Imamah and Caliphate (Khilafah)?
How can we distinguish between individuals like the heretical Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of India, who led the Qadiyani movement, reformists like Hassan Al-Banna of Egypt who led the famous al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, and leaders like Ayatullah S. M. Baqir as-Sadr of Iraq? Can you clarify their positions and which titles should be used for them? What are the main differences between these terms and Imamah and Caliphate (Khilafah)?
The word Imamah and Caliphate are synonymous,52 referring to the political leadership of the Muslim ummah. The only difference is that, historically, the Shi'ah have generally used the first term while the Sunnis have generally used the second term. With regards to the first class of claimants like Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian, we must emphasize these individuals did nothing more than claim to be the promised Al-Mahdi. They were not qualified to fulfill his Divine duties, nor have they achieved any remarkable progress in creating a global peaceful society. For further details of his claims one can read our answer to question number 47.
Other reformists and leaders, are religious and political leaders who struggled to strictly emulate the life-style of the early Muslim society. Among Shi'ah communities, these scholars are called (marja') authority, while amongst Sunnis they are sometimes called (murshid) guides, and sometimes (mujaddid) reviver.53 The marja' or murshid are neither prophets nor imams or caliphs, but they are recognized as a consequence of their scientific, social and political accomplish-ments. According to the Pakistani Sunni scholar Abu al-'Ala Mawdudi, a mujaddid may pursue one of nine forms of Islamic renewal (tajdid): diagnosis of current ailments, scheme for reform, estimation of one's limitations and resources, intellectual revolution, practical reform, ijtihad, defense of Islam, revival of the Islamic system, and universal revolution. To Mawdudi only an ideal mujaddid is capable of achieving all nine objectives of renewal. He argues further that the ideal mujaddid is yet to appear, but that the ideal mujaddid will appear in the form of Al-Mahdi (as), as foretold in the traditions of the Prophet (saws).54
We have started with a brief explanation of the word Savior and its mythology, followed by a biography of the Twelfth Imam Al-Mahdi (as), who is believed to be the promised Savior in the Islamic traditional texts. The conditions of his birth and childhood were explored and analyzed, and we made a comparison between the Sunni and Shi'ah images of him. We drew a distinction between reformers and political leaders on the one hand and Imams and Caliphs on the other. An effort was made to explain how one can distinguish between an imposer and the real Imam.
In conclusion to this chapter, I would like to quote the following poem of Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, (1853), who wrote these words describing the Holy Savior Jesus, who will appear with Al-Mahdi (as):
Love, faith and devotion for our Savior
Saw you never, in the twilight,
When the sun had left the skies,
Up in heav'n the clear stars shining
Through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the wise men, watching,
Saw a little stranger star
And they knew the King was given,
And they followed it from afar.
Heard you never of the story
How they crossed the desert wild,
Journeyed on by plain and mountain,
Till they found the Holy Child?
How they opened all their treasure,
Kneeling to that infant King;
Gave the gold and fragrant incense,
Gave the myrrh in offering?
Know ye not that lowly Baby
Was the bright and morning Star?
He Who came to light the Gentiles,
And the darkened isles afar?
And we, too, may seek His cradle;
There are hearts' best treasures bring;
Love, and faith, and true devotion. For our Savior. 55
52. Ibn Arabi & Al-Qayssari, Sharh Foussous al-Hikam. (Hikmat Imamiah fi Kalimatin Harouniah) p.383, Al-'Itissam Publ. Qum, Iran. 1995/1416
53. Dekmejian, R.H. Islam in revolution, Fundamentalism in the Arab World, p.60-61, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press
54. Dekmejian, p.60-61
Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"
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