Roots of Religion: The Necessity of Imam for defending Islam


Second verse

In the first verse, Allah, the Glorified, the High, appointed Hazrat Ali (a.s.) as an Imam through the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and in the following verse Allah has appointed all the Imams (a.s.). The Holy Quran says:…(complete)

Hazrat Jabir b. Abdullah Ansari (r.a.), a close companion of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) narrates that when this verse was revealed upon the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), I asked him (s.a.w.s.): ‘O Messenger of Allah, I have understood Allah and His Prophet (from this verse), but who are those vested with authority whose obedience has been made tantamount by Allah to your obedience?’ The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) replied:

‘O Jabir! They are the ones who will be the Caliphs and Imams of the Muslims after me. The first among them is Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.), then Hasan (a.s.), then Husain (a.s.), then Ali b. Husain (a.s.), then Mohammad b. Ali (a.s.), who is called as ‘Baqir’ in the Torah (the names of Imams (a.s.) have been also mentioned in the Torah). O Jabir! You shall soon meet him and when you do meet him, convey my salam to him.

(History is witness to the fact that what the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) prophesied actually occurred. Jabir got the opportunity to meet Imam Baqir (a.s.) and he conveyed the salam of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) to Imam (a.s.)).

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) continued:

‘After him, Ja’fer b. Mohammad (a.s.), as-Sadiq will be the Calpih, then Moosa b. Ja’far (a.s.), then Ali b. Musa (a.s.), then Muhammad b. Ali (a.s.), then Ali b. Mohammad (a.s.), then Hasan b. Ali (a.s.) and he will be succeeded by the one whose name will be my name and whose agnomen will be my agnomen. He will be Allah’s Proof and His Remnant on this earth and the son of Hasan b. Ali (a.s.). He is the one through whom Allah will spread His name in the East and the West. He will be concealed from the eyes of his followers and friends. It will be such a prolonged occultation that only those whose hearts will pass the test of belief will remain steadfast on belief.’

Jabir (r.a.) narrates – I humbly asked the Messenger of Allah, ‘Will his lovers be able to derive any benefit from him during the period of his occultation?’ The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) replied,

‘I swear by Him Who has raised me as a Prophet, undoubtedly during his period of occultation the people will benefit from his light, his mastership and wisdom, like the people benefit from the sun when it is hidden behind the clouds.’

In keeping with the brevity of this treatise, it is not possible to mention the names of all Ahle Sunnah scholars who have recorded the above tradition. We mention the name of just one great Ahle Sunnah scholar – Sulaiman Qunduzi-e-Hanafi who has quoted this incident in the 76th chapter of his book ‘Yanabiul Mawaddah’.

The testimonial of even Ahle Sunnah scholars in their compilations, serves to reinforce our claim that Allah, the Glorified, the High has explicitly appointed the infallible Imams (a.s.) as Ulul Amr over us, so that we may not appoint any Imam and thereby expose ourselves to deviation and misguidance.

In this chapter we shall try to acquaint readers with the all-important affair of Imamat. In this endeavour, we shall try to answer some questions like – Has the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) informed us anything about Imamat or was he (s.a.w.s.) silent over this issue? Has he (s.a.w.s.) made some recommendations about this affair to the Muslims? We all know that whatever he (s.a.w.s.) command us becomes our religious obligation, as the Quran has explicitly commanded the Muslims to obey and submit to him (s.a.w.s.).

Then if the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has mentioned anything specific about Imamat, then it is obligatory upon us to accept his recommendations and we cannot oppose him in this matter regardless of our personal inclinations. Keeping this in mind, we have brought a tradition narrated by eminent scholars of Ahle Sunnah. Of course such traditions have also been narrated by Shia scholars, but recording of such traditions by Ahle Sunnah scholars lends credibility to the arguments and claims of Shias regarding Imamat.

We have outlined below just some of the Quranic verses in this regard, which are considered as authentic and accurate by most Muslims.

1) Hadith of The Day of Warning (Yaum al-Inzaar)

After the declaration of his prophethood (be’that), the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) commenced the propagation of Islam secretly for three years, until Allah, the High, revealed the verse upon him

On the basis of this verse, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) invited his near kinsmen for a feast and then announced, ‘You know that Allah, the Almighty, has raised me on the position of prophethood …and whoever assists me in this affair, he will be my brother, my vicegerent, my successor and my caliph.’ The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) made this declaration thrice and each time no one answered his invitation except Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.). Finally he (s.a.w.s.) declared,

‘Surely amongst you Ali is my brother, my vicegerent and my caliph.’

Then he (s.a.w.s.) said to Ali (a.s.),

‘After me, you are my brother, my successor and my vicegerent.’

This important historical event has been recorded in various books of history and traditions through different chain of narrators. The manner in which the incident has been narrated above, leaves no room for doubt as far as successorship and caliphate of the Islamic nation after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) is concerned. The incident has been recorded in a range of books. We have mentioned below only a few to emphasise our point.

Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal in his Musnad, Imam Tha’labi under the exegesis of the verses of Inzaar, Muhammad b. Jurair-e-Tabari under the exegesis of the above verse as also in Tarikhul Omam-e-wal Malook, vol 2, Haakim Nishapuri in Mustadrakas Sahihain, Shaikh Sulaiman Qunduzi Balkhi Hanafi in his book Yanabiul Mawaddah, chap. 21.

Now that we have narrated the chain of the tradition and have established that even non-Shia scholars have acknowledged the veracity this tradition, let us examine some more traditions and see how Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has very clearly highlighted the Caliphate and Wilayat of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) in the preliminary days of Islam.

It is noteworthy that the historical incident has also been narrated by Westerners e.g. Thomas Carlyle while narrating this event in his book ‘Al Abtaal’ writes that the day when the little hand of Ali (a.s.) was in the hands of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), it changed the face of history.

2) Hadith-e-Thaqalain

The second tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) on this subject is Hadith-e- Thaqalain.

Let us examine the chain of narrators of this tradition from, the ‘Sihaah-e-Sitta’. It is well known that the Sihaah-e-Sitta are those 6 books of traditions of the Ahle Sunnah which are considered most authentic by the scholars. Since this tradition has been recorded in many places, we shall only mention a few references.

Muslim b. Hajjaj in his Sahih in vol. 7, Tirmidhi in his Sunan in vol. 2, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal in his Musnad in volumes 3, 4 and 5 and Hakim in vol. 3 of Mustadrak are just some of the Ahle Sunnah scholars who have recorded this tradition in their compilations.

After validating the authenticity of the tradition now let us focus on its text, to understand what the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) wished to convey to the Islamic nation. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) declared that the Quran and Ahle Bait (a.s.) will never separate from each other. He has (s.a.w.s.) commanded us to be attached to both these entities and has assured us that this is the (only) way of salvation for his nation.

In the light of this tradition, we can safely claim that Imamat is not attributed only to the Shias, rather the entire Muslim nation is supposed to adhere to this critical principle of religion. However, unfortunately some people do not accept the principle of Imamat although these words are from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) himself. It is up to the Muslims to reflect on this particular command of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) with an unbiased bent of mind and understand that they will have to face him (s.a.w.s.) on the day of Qiyamat.

3) Hadith-e-Ghadeer

The tradition of Ghadeer has been narrated by approximately 360 scholars of the Ahle Sunnah like Ibn-e-Athir in his Al Bidayah Wan Nihayah, (relating from prominent Shaaf’ee leader Ibn Idrees Shafaee,) Ahmed b. Hanbal (the Imam of the Hanbali sect) in his Musnad and Manaqib, Tirmidhi in his Sahih, Imam Nisai in his Sunan and Muttaqi-e-Hindi in his Kanzul Ummal.

First we would like to give readers some historical background about Hadith-e-Gadheer. This crucial incident took place in the tenth year of Hijrat when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) departed for his farewell Hajj (Hajjatul Wida) and announced that Muslims should also come for Hajj. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) began his journey towards the Holy House of Ka’baa from Medina. Hazrat Ali (a.s.), who had returned after completing his responsibilities of governorship in Yemen, joined the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) for Hajj. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) ordered Ali (a.s.) to go to the Muslims and exhort them to come for Hajj. After some days the Muslims reached Mecca. There the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) taught the Muslims the Hajj rituals.

After completing the ritual ceremony of Hajj, Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) along with a large number of Muslims, commenced his homebound journey. The heat was uncomfortable and the Arabian desert was scorching the feet of the travelers. On the 18th of Zilhajj, they reached a place called Ghadir-e-Khumm, (this place is a few kilometres away from Johfah) This is the place where Hazrat Jibraeel (a.s.) descended with the message and halted Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). With this divine command, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) ordered those who had gone ahead to return and waited for those who were left behind. Then the arch-angel Hazaat Jibraeel (a.s.)came with the revelation. (complete)

Below the burning Sun and amidst the warm breeze blowing the sand all over the place, the call (adhaan) for noon prayers were made. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) led the noon prayers and tens of thousands of Muslims offered prayers behind him (s.a.w.s.). The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) then ordered that a pulpit of camel saddles be raised. Historians have recorded that there were approximately 80,000 to 1,20,000 Muslims present on that occasion. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) then mounted the pulpit and delivered a sermon. We bring a part of the sermon for your reference.

‘O people! It is near that I answer the call of the Lord and depart from your midst. I am answerable to Allah and you too have responsibility to fulfill and are answerable to Him. I am leaving behind two precious things in you midst, one is Allah’s Book (Quran) and the other is my progeny – my Ahle Bait (a.s.)’.

At this moment the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) took the hand of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.), mounted the pulpit so that all Muslims could see them and then announced
‘Of whomsoever I am the Master, Ali is his Master.’

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) made this declaration thrice. (Imam Ahmed b. Hanbal, leader of the Hanbali sect, narrates in his Musnad, that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) repeated the above statement 4 times).

Then the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) beseeched Allah,

‘O my Lord! Befriend him who befriends Ali, and bear enmity with the one who bears enmity with Ali, help the one who helps Ali and forsake the one who forsakes Ali! My Lord! Appoint Ali as the axis and centre of truth.’

After this, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) ordered those who were present to inform to those who were absent about this event. Then Hazrat Jibraeel (a.s.) descended with the revelation and glad tidings that

‘Today I have competed for you your religion and perfected My bounties upon you and am satisfied with Islam as your religion.’

(Surae Maidah: 3)

On receiving this good news, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) recited Allaho Akbar (Takbeer) loudly and said
‘I thank Allah and am grateful to Him that He has completed His religion and His bounty and is satisfied and pleased with my prophethood and the Wilayat of Ali (a.s.) after me.’

Then the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and Ali (a.s.) descended from the pulpit and were immediately flocked by Muslims who congratulated Ali (a.s.) in groups and called him as the ‘Master of the believers’ (Ameerul Mo’mineen (a.s.)). This was the occasion when the second Caliph – Umar b. Khattab, also congratulated Ali (a.s.) in the following manner:

‘O son of Abu Talib! Congratulations to you, today you have become the Master of all the believing men & women.’

(Al Bidayah Wan Nihayah volumes 5 and 7,
Zakha’erul Uqba, Fusulul Muhimmah vol 2)

After reflecting on the tone and tenor of the Quranic verses related to Ghadeer, and the context of the revelations, and after analysing various terms in Arabic literature, Shia and Ahle Sunnah scholars have concluded that the word ‘Maula’ in the incident of Gahdeer has only one meaning -‘master’. However, some scholars of Ahle Sunnah believe that the meaning ‘Maula’ is a ‘friend’ and not a ‘master’. Even if this is assumed to be right, we must check to see whether in Arabic literature or in the Quran this word has been used to mean a friend? Secondly even if we take the meaning of friend, does it mean that Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), Allah’s greatest creation, said that, ‘Of whomsoever I am a friend Ali is his friend.’ Was the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), Allah forbid, indulging in trivial acts like announcing his friendship with Ali (a.s.) in the midst of the scorching heat of the Arabian desert in front of a thousands of Muslim men and women?

To seal all arguments, let us refer to the Quran (in which all Muslims believe) to determine in what context Allah has used the word Maula. In the 15th verse of Surae Hadeed Allah addresses the polytheist and the follower.

Those among the Ahle Sunnah scholars, who have translated this verse, have interpreted the meaning of the word ‘Maula’ to mean the Master and Guardian and not a friend. Some personalities like Kalbi, Zujjaaj and Abu Ubaydah have interpreted it in this manner. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Fakhre Raazi, vol 8). However, regretfully most Ahle Sunnah scholars have interpreted ‘Maula’ as a friend, contrary to the common interpretation to suit their own interests.

Everything that we narrated about the event of Ghadeer in this treatise is from references of the Ahle Sunnah. As far as Shias are concerned, this event has been narrated widely and in vivid detail.

Now we shall give readers an account of events that took place after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). With this we wish to highlight how the Muslims regarded the numerous recommendations and exhortations of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) regarding his Ahle Bait (a.s.).

The holy body of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was in the care of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and other members of Bani Hashim and some devoted companions of the of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). All these personalities were busy in arranging for the burial, which was the most critical task at that moment. While the burial of the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.s.) was in progress, some so-called close companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) assembled at a place ‘Saqifa-e-Bani Saae’da’ (which was at a distance from the house of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.)) to elect the successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). However, none of the actual companions (Salman (r.a.), Abu Zar (r.a.), Miqdad (r.a.)) and close family members (Ali (a.s.), Abdullah b. Abbas) were present as they were all engaged in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) burial.

Only three people from the Mohajireen were present in Saqifa and they got there without wasting any time. The rest of the Muslims were from Ansar. Saqifa was witness to heated debates and arguments between the Muslims where everyone was trying to introduce himself as the successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Even after much deliberation and bickering, when there was no consensus among the Muslims, Umar took the lead and steered the debate in Abu Bakr’s favour and appointed him as the Caliph, even though most Ansar were against this move.

Before we comment on Abu Bakr’s selection it is important that we discuss the criteria based on which his selection was mooted by Umar and Abu Bakr himself. The Mohajireen advanced two main arguments in support of Abu Baqr’s selection. First – they were the first to accept the Islam. Second – their close relation to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.).

If these were the two main arguments based on which Abu Baqr was selected as the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) successor, then we see if there was any Muslim who preceded other Muslims in these two criteria. History is witness that Hazrat Ali (a.s.) preceded the Islamic nation in accepting Islam when he was only a youth. As far as proximity in relation is concerned, Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was the brother of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and also his son-in-law and spent his childhood and youth in the company of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and received his training in the very lap of prophethood.

Inspite of these unparalleled merits, it is indeed strange how the Muslims overlooked all these virtues and selected someone for Caliphate while he was not worthy for it. Umar while narrating the virtues of Abu Bakr in Saqifa mentioned his excessive wealth and his companionship with the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) in the cave. So according to Umar wealth was an important criteria for the Caliphate of Muslims. Wealth can never be considered as a criterion for leadership, more so since the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) himself was not rich, but was selected by Allah for prophethood. And even if we consider it as a criterion, then there were many who were richer than Abu Baqr.

As regards the companionship in the cave, if this is the criteria for Caliphate, then it needs to be highlighted that the cave of Thaur is at a distance from Mecca, and did not involve any danger and peril. On the other hand, Hazrat Ali (a.s.) had slept on the bed of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and put his life in grave danger for the safety of his (s.a.w.s.) life. As far as Abu Baqr’s leading the namaz in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) illness is concerned, first of all we need to see whether this incident itself is authentic. It is not proved that Abu Bakr lead the prayers in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) illness. And even if we assume that he lead the prayers it is not known whether he did this with the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) consent or on the recommendations of the people. Anyway if leading the namaz is a sign of greatness and makes one worthy of Caliphate, then we have to accept that the one who leads the namaz in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) absence as his deputy for a longer period of time is more worthy of Caliphate. And it is well-acknowledged that in the war of Tabuk, Ali (a.s.) had led the prayers in Medina as the deputy of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and this period of deputyship was much more than that of Abu Bakr.

Moreover, when the selection of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) successor was already decided by Allah and his Prophet (s.a.w.s.), then what was the need for these people to assemble and hold a parallel selection process? These companions decided to choose their own caliph because the basic criteria for the successorship of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) – complete knowledge of Islamic beliefs and religious obligations and awareness of the needs of the Islamic society, infallibility, etc, seemed impossible and distant to them. That is why when they assembled in Saqifa-e-Bani Saae’da they contested their claims using merits like wealth, proximity and companionship. For these companions, caliphate and successorship of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was a means to assume power and authority over the people.

The haste shown in the selection of Abu Bakr as the Caliph was unusual and it is for this reason that the second Caliph, Umar, used to often say, ‘The selection of the first (Abu Bakr) for the Caliphate was in haste. This affair was not an outcome of consultation and reflection, now if any one tries to repeat it, he should be killed.’ (Ibne Hesham vol 4)

Finally Abu Bakr was selected as a Caliph and it was announced likewise. Subsequent to his selection, Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and the Prophet’s Ahle Bait (s.a.w.s.) were dealt with very harshly and the government was extremely hostile towards them and disregarded their limitless merits outlined in the Quran and Prophetic traditions.

In fact, the hostility and enmity towards the Ahle Bait (a.s.) reached a new level altogether, when the government ordered the holy house of Janabe Zahra (s.a.) to be burnt down along with its inmates. As it is, the beloved daughter of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was grief-struck with the passing away of her dear father (s.a.w.s.) and then the burning of her house only added to her woes. Her house was set aflame, and the people opened the door of her house forcefully so much so that she was crushed between the door and the wall of her house. In the process, her ribs were smashed and Janabe Mohsin (a.s.) who was still in her womb, was martyred, even before he was born (Tabari). She was lashed mercilessly on her hands, while she was calling out her beloved father for help.

Even the lion-hearted Ali (a.s.), was subjected to intense humiliation, but for Islam’s sake, he swallowed all this disgrace patiently and adopted silence. Thus he (a.s.) declares in Nahjul Balagha, ‘I was patient inspite of a thorn pricking my eyes and a bone lodged in my throat.’ After this, a group of people on the orders of the Caliph, seized Ali (a.s.) and dragged him to the Prophet’s mosque with a rope wound around his neck. Their objective was to force Ali (a.s.) to pay allegiance to the newly selected Caliph. All these and the subsequent calamities, took a heavy toll on Janabe Zahra’s (s.a.) health and she also passed away within a few weeks of her beloved father’s (s.a.w.s.) demise.

It is mentioned in the authentic books of Ahle Sunnah (Sahih-e-Bukhari, Sahih-e-Muslim, Yusuf Ganji Shafe’i in Kifaayatut Talib, etc) that Janabe Zahra (s.a.) while she was unwell after the burning of the door, told the first and second Caliphs, ‘When I shall leave this world and meet my dear father, I shall complain to him about you both.’

The appointment of the second Caliph was more absurd than that of the first one. This is because the same people who had advocated that the Caliph should be selected by the Muslims and made Saqifa a reality, chose the second Caliph in a totally different manner. When the first Caliph was on his deathbed due to ill health he appointed Umar as the next Caliph and did not feel the need to consult the Muslims, in the process overlooking the fact that he himself was selected by them. This implies that he himself was not in favour of selection by the people and appointed his successor on his own.

The appointment of a successor by the second Caliph was even more atrocious. During the last few days of his life, when his death became inminent, he adopted a totally different manner of selecting a Caliph. He appointed a committee (Shura) of six persons and ordered them to select a Caliph among themselves. He ordered that if any member opposed the decision of the committee, he should be killed. Everything was so arranged and planned, that Uthman would end up being selected his successor. And this actually happened.

Finally Uthman’s Caliphate reached a stage where the people realised the folly (in his Caliphate) and out of sheer desperation, they laid siege to his house and killed him. Then they proceeded towards the house of Ali (a.s.) and persuaded him to undertake the Caliphate, while he showed absolutely no inclination for it. Finally Ali (a.s.) accepted it only in the better interest of the Muslim community, which had sunk to the depths of misguidance and falsehood under the reign of the first three Caliphs. On his acceptance of the Caliphate, the Muslims rushed to pay allegiance to him, and selected him as their Ameer (chief).

Who has the right to appoint the Imam? How and on what conditions should the selection of the Caliph take place? How did these conditions change in the course of time?

In the following paragraphs, we shall learn the answers to these and other questions from the Shi’ite viewpoint.

Imamat and Caliphate are divine positions and consequently can be conferred upon man only by Allah. No one can compete with Allah in this. Just like the appointment of a prophet, which is in the hands of Allah alone. Unless a prophet or his successor is appointed by Allah Himself, he cannot attain this position, even if all the people of the world reach an overwhelming consensus on his Prophethood or Caliphate. According to the Shi’ite viewpoint, Imamat is not a matter of selection, as selection is done when there are some contenders for a particular position. Rather the Shias believe that Allah appoints an Imam, introduces him to the people through the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) so that the people know who is their Imam and Caliph. This is the most fundamental difference in the concept of Imamat between the Shia and the Ahle Sunnah. Many great and illustrious Ahle Sunnah scholars have realised this difference. Ibne Khaldoon is one such Ahle Sunnah scholar, whose sayings are considered authentic. He explains both the views as follows – In view of the Ahle Sunnah, Imamat is a public affair which is related to the nation. The Imam will be the one selected by the nation. While in the view of the Shias, Imamat is the pillar of religion. In this regard, consultation with the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) is not permitted and the nation has no say in it. It cannot be left in their hands, instead appointing an Imam over them is Allah’s privilege alone. Moreover, the Imam should be infallible (free from all sins big and small)
(al-Mukaddamah by Ibne Khaldoon. Printed by Maktabe Tejaariyyan, Egyptian edition, pg 196)

Therefore, it is clear that after the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), it is upon Allah to appoint the Imam. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) ensured that the chain of guidance continued after him by announcing his successor. Now since the responsibility of guidance is so monumental, there should be some similarity between the characteristics of the Prophet and the Imam, however, with same differences. The Prophet explains the religion, receives revelation, brings the divine Book, while the Imam lacks all these characteristics, and instead he protects the religion, translates and explains the revelation. He elaborates on the correct meaning and concept of the verses of the Book. The Imam safeguards the religion from heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy. He expounds the roots (Usule deen) and branches of religion (Furue deen) and completes the aim of Prophethood. He is not a Prophet but very similar to him in duties, responsibilities and characteristics. On this basis, according to the Shia viewpoint, the Imam should also posses the following characteristics:

1) Knowledge

It is necessary for an Imam to have absolute knowledge about the roots (Usul) and branches (Furu) of religion. He should not have acquired this knowledge from any other mortal, because in that case the position of his teacher would be greater than him. In every affair (religious or worldly), he must be able to guide the people and make them aware of their responsibility to the extent that people do not feel the need to refer to anyone else in his presence. If the Imam does not posses such expansive knowledge, he cannot be the successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) because if he does not have the requisite knowledge, then a) He will definitely err in his judgment and will do what he is not supposed to do. b) He will narrate wrong laws and make unlawful what is lawful and vice versa. c) He will seek solutions for problems from others and how can an Imam guide others while he himself needs guidance.

2) Infallibility

This is an important criterion for an Imam. It means that the Imam should be free from all sins – big and small, knowingly and unknowingly. This is the only way he will ever win the trust and confidence of the people. A leader by committing mistakes will undermine his own credibility and his words will never be considered as the words of Allah and the Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Consequently his obedience will never be deemed tantamount to the obedience of Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Moreover, if he cannot refrain from sins, how can he order others to do so? He will never be a successful guide for the people. This is the reason that all the Prophets (s.a.w.s.) and successors (a.s.) sent by Allah were all infallible. In Shiasm even for praying two units of congregational prayers, leadership of an Adil (just) Imam is required. Then how can the Shias accept an Imam who is steeped in sins for their Hereafter? That is why according to the Shias, infallibility is a necessary condition for an Imam.

3) Superiority

Along with the above-mentioned two criteria, it is necessary that the Imam is superior to all the people of his time. His superiority should extend to all fields. He must be the best in worship among the worshippers, the most courageous among the warriors, the most patient and forbearing among the patient ones, the most knowledgeable among the knowledgeable ones, the most strict and relentless with the enemies of Islam and the most loving and affectionate towards the friends. The entire nation combined should not be able to equal him in his excellence. Intellect demands that when the most superior is present, then the less superior one cannot and should not be given precedence.

Other than the above characteristics, the characteristics required for an Imam for leading prayers must also be present in him. Even if one of these characteristics is not present in him, he cannot be an Imam even if the entire nation pays allegiance to him.

As we have already stated previously, the Imam should be appointed only by Allah because only He knows whether the characteristics (i.e. knowledge, infallibility, superiority) are present or not, especially infallibility. No one else can judge or determine this particular virtue. Since Allah is completely aware about the hidden and the apparent, past and future, knowledge and actions, thoughts and ideas of each and every person, only He has the right to appoint an Imam. Imamat is not a democratic position that can be acquired by popular vote.

4) Miracles

When it is clear that only Allah can appoint an Imam and the Prophet introduces the Imam appointed by Him to the people, then as a further proof, it is necessary for the Imam to possess some extraordinary traits which would prove his claim of being Allah’s representative. He must be able to perform actions that common people find impossible to do. In this way, it becomes easier for the people to differentiate between a true Imam and false claimant of Imamat. Such extraordinary acts are termed as miracles (Aayaat).

When Allah has appointed such a person as the Imam for the whole universe, it means that He has made his obedience obligatory upon all His creatures. The people in this regard have no choice but to accept his leadership whether they like it or not.


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