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Imamat: The Perfection of Deen

AboutMail Box Letter Relevant to this Topic
 Letter 14
: Imamat in Detail


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اُردو ترجمے کے لئے یہاں جائیں




Since creation of prophet Adam (AS), a series of divinely appointed guides have continued to warn mankind.

And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a khalif, they said: What! wilt Thou place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, and we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness? He said: Surely I know what you do not know.
Quran [2:30]

And (We sent) messengers We have mentioned to you before and messengers we have not mentioned to you; and to Musa, Allah addressed His Word, speaking (to him): (We sent) messengers as the givers of good news and as warners, so that people should not have a plea against Allah after the (coming of) messengers; and Allah is Mighty, Wise.
Quran [4:164-165]

Thus since the beginning of creation, Allah sent prophets/messengers. This series of guidance was however terminated after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the seal of the prophets.

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Last of the prophets; and Allah is cognizant of all things.
Quran [33:40]

Prophet Ibrahim (AS) was a prophet of Allah, and his friend.

And who has a better religion than he who submits himself entirely to Allah? And he is the doer of good (to others) and follows the faith of Ibrahim, the upright one, and Allah took Ibrahim as a friend.
Quran [4:125]

When Allah severely tested and tried the faith of Prophet Ibrahim (AS), he was also appointed as the Imam of mankind as the following verses testify.

And when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words, he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make you an Imam of men. Ibrahim said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the unjust, said He.

Thus prophet Ibrahim (AS) was responsible for two divinely appointed offices, prophethood and Imamat. I have posted above a verse which concludes the termination of the office of prophethood after demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Can you show me any verse or hadith from history which points towards the termination of the office of Imamat? The answer is simple. No! Because for you to show a verdict which terminates the office of Imamat, the verdict needs to exist, while it obviously is non-existent.

Who were the Imams is another issue and will be discussed in another article. The question now arises that even after being a prophet of Allah and friend of Allah, what other honor and authority would being the imam of men bring to prophet Ibrahim (AS). Secondly, why was prophet Ibrahim (AS) keen for imams to belong to his offsprings as well and was he granted that prayer of his or no.

Sunnis and shias interpret the office of Imamat differently. Some even consider prophethood and imamat to be the same thing. Some consider Imamt to be the same as Khilafat (political appointment).

And We send not messengers but as announcers of good news and givers of warning, then whoever believes and acts aright, they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Quran [6:48]

Messengers and prophets were sent to convey the message of Allah, to warn and to give good news on the behalf of the creator. Messengers are the representatives of God on earth.

Imam however is different from a messenger or a prophet.

And We gave him Ishaq and Yaqoub, a son's son, and We made (them) all good; And We made them Imams who guided (people) by Our command, and We revealed to them the doing of good and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of the alms, and Us (alone) did they serve;
Quran [21:72-73]

So We caught hold of him and his hosts, then We cast them into the sea, and see how was the end of the unjust. And We made them Imams who call to the fire, and on the day of resurrection they shall not be assisted.
Quran [28:40-41]

Thus the word Imam literally means to follow. In our case, Imam means to follow unconditionally irrespective of the persons position as a prophet or a non-prophet. A prophet can be an Imam but an Imam is not necessarily always a prophet as well. Firaun was an Imam who called people (who followed him and his commands) towards the hellfire. Those who considered him to be an imam followed his footsteps and will be doomed.

("Verily, I am going to make you an Imam (a leader) for mankind (to follow you).'') as a reward for Ibrahim's good deeds, adhering to the commandments and avoiding the prohibitions. This is why Allah made Ibrahim a role model for the people, and an Imam whose conduct and path are imitated and followed.
Tafsir Ibne Kathir, Tafsir of 2:124

Even Ibn Kathir agrees that Imams are role models for the people, and a role model is to be followed, in actions as well as orders.

Where do we draw a line between prophets and Imams? My interpretation to the whole situation is as follows. Prophet Sheth (AS) was a prophet and not an Imam. Prophet Sheth (AS) will be honored and respected. He will guide fellow beings through revelations revealed to him and convey the message of Allah.  However all of the actions and words of Prophet Sheth might not be a revelation. He can order something which is something of his own desire and not a commandment of Allah. This order of his can be followed or cannot be followed. Keeping in mind the fact that he is the prophet of Allah, his orders should be followed by his people but in strict terms, it is not necessary if it is clear that the order is a personal desire and not a revelation. Thus for Sheth's people, prophet Sheth is a role model only when he follows a revelation. For example, if Sheth's people are ordered to perform Salat, Prophet Sheth will perform salat as it is revealed to him by Allah. Prophet Sheth's personal actions and opinions and desirous ways to perform salat will not be a part of religion and he will not perform salat in a way which he thinks is plausible.

Prophet Ibrahim (AS) was a prophet as well as an Imam. Being a prophet, he brought a "new" message to his nation. Being an Imam, his personal desires and actions started to become religious law. He became a role model independent of revelation. This independency however is granted by Allah. The example of Hajj is there. Hajj is a ritual which was performed by Ibrahim (AS) and his family. It became a part of religion.

Similarly Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a prophet as well as an Imam.

Indeed We see the turning of your face to heaven, so We shall surely turn you to a qiblah which you shall like; turn then your face towards the Sacred Mosque, and wherever you are, turn your face towards it, and those who have been given the Book most surely know that it is the truth from their Lord; and Allah is not at all heedless of what they do.
Quran [2:144]

The changing of Qiblah was a desire of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and it was nested within the recommendations of religion.

Is obeying Muhammad (SAW) the same as obeying Allah? Technically yes, but infact, they are two different orders.

O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and do not make your deeds of no effect.
Quran [47:33]

Allah tells us, that if we need to make our deeds useful, we will have to do two things, one is to obey Allah, and the other is to obey Muhammad (SAW). If both were the same, there would not have been any need for a repetition in the same verse. This is a proof in itself, that not only are these two obediences different but also that they hold the same importance.

The problem is, we have not seen Allah, nor the angel, then how can we obey him? Logic dictates that obeying Muhammad (SAW) is the same as obeying Allah. This is true technically, but there is a difference.

As i said earlier, Muhammad (SAW) was a rasool as well as an Imam. The obedience to Allah is the obedience to the revelations revealed to Muhammad (SAW) by angel Gabriel (AS). Thus, obedience to Muhammad (SAW) as a Rasool Allah is the obedience to Allah. Obedience to Muhammad (SAW), independent and irrespective of the revelation revealed, is obedience to Muhammad (SAW) as an Imam.

If a revelation is revealed, which tells the Muslims that alcohol is banned, and Muhammad (SAW) tells that to the Muslims, then avoiding alcohol will be obedience to Allah, because we followed Muhammad (SAW) as a Rasool or messenger of Allah. If no revelation regarding an issue is revealed, but Muhammad (SAW) tells you to divorce your wife, even if there is no apparent reason, and Muhammad (SAW) tells it to you out of his personal desire and free will, then divorcing your wife will take shape into a religious responsibility, and if you divorce your wife, it will be your obedience to Muhammad (SAW) as an Imam. This is the difference between the two obediences Allah has ordered time and time again in the Quran.

However, there is yet another issue. How will we know if what Muhammad (SAW) is telling us to do, is a revelation or something out of his personal desire? First thing, in either case, we are to obey him (SAW) because he is not only a Prophet but also an Imam. Disobedience to either will make you one of the rejecters.

To make the issue simple, let us talk about a prophet who was not an Imam. Let us take prophet Sheth (AS). Obedience to Sheth (AS) is compulsory all the time. Because he is not an Imam but only a prophet, Sheth (AS) is not allowed to order his followers anything out of his own desire. If he (AS) does something which he was not supposed to, then the monitoring of Allah is very severe and he makes his prophets pay the price of their participation outside the orders of Allah. Examples of Adam (AS) and Yunus (AS) are infront of us! Thus any order a Prophet gives to the followers, is confirmed to be from Allah, for if it was not, Allah would not allow his Prophets to intermingle their desire with the message, because that authority lies with imamat.

Having said that, it does not mean at all, that an Imam can allow alcohol, when Allah has banned it. An Imam can desire anything and following it is our religious duty, but Imamat is given to those whose Infallibility is of the highest level, thus their desire is not prone to error.

Surely Firon exalted himself in the land and made its people into parties, weakening one party from among them; he slaughtered their sons and let their women live; surely he was one of the mischiefmakers. And We desired to bestow a favor upon those who were deemed weak in the land, and to make them the Imams, and to make them the heirs,
Quran [28:4-5]

It is also interesting to notify the fact that Allah chooses the Imam, from among those who are deemed weak. Hints for the wise are sufficient.

Coming back to the second question, was Ibrahim's (AS) progeny granted Imamt, as per his plea? The answer is yes.

When Allah made Ibrahim an Imam (Leader for the faithful), he asked Allah that Imams thereafter be chosen from his offspring. Allah accepted his supplication, but told him that there will be unjust people among his offspring and they will not benefit from Allah's promise. Thus, they will neither become Imams nor be imitated (for they will not be righteous). The proof that Ibrahim's supplication to Allah was accepted is that Allah said in Surat Al-`Ankabut (29:27), And We ordained among his offspring prophethood and the Book). Hence, every Prophet whom Allah sent after Ibrahim were from among his offspring, and every Book that Allah revealed was to them. As for Allah's statement, ((Allah) said, "My covenant (prophethood) includes not Zalimin (polytheists and wrongdoers). '') Allah mentioned that there are unjust people among the offspring of Ibrahim, and they will not benefit from Allah's promise, nor would they be entrusted with anything, even though they are among the children of Allah's Khalil (intimate friend, Prophet Abraham). There will also be those who do good among the children of Ibrahim, and these it is who will benefit from Ibrahim's supplication. Ibn Jarir said that this Ayah indicated that the unjust shall not be Imams for the people. Moreover, the Ayah informed Ibrahim that there will be unjust people among his offspring. Also, Ibn Khuwayz Mindad Al-Maliki said, "The unjust person does not qualify to be a Khalifah, a ruler, one who gives religious verdicts, a witness, or even a narrator (of Hadiths).''
Tafsir Ibne Kathir, Tafsir of Verse 2:124

Kathir interprets imamat to be the same as prophethood which is not quiet true as stated earlier. However, the progeny of Ibrahim (AS) did produce Imams who were not unjust which is a hint towards infallibility, due to the fact that Allah has termed "sinning" as being unjust to one's own soul.

Evil is the likeness of the people who reject Our communications and are unjust to their own souls.
Quran [7:177]

Thus we have so far concluded that,

We now may ask that what is the need of Imamat, specially after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when prophethood was sealed forever.

Sunnat/Shariat is what prophet Muhammad (SAW) practiced. Whatever the messenger did, became a sunnat. Islam is a deen and Quran is a book of guidance while Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is it's teacher. What ever the prophet said or did was Deen itself. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a walking role model of Deen e Islam. After his demise, shall we say that he took Sunnat with him? Should we say that with his demise, the demise of Deen occured too? Is it fair that Allah sent two things to the people fourteen hundred years ago, The prrophet and the Quran, and then left only one in this world, a teacher less Quran, for people like us? Let us refer to history.

Yazid b. Hayyan reported, I went along with Husain b. Sabra and 'Umar b. Muslim to Zaid b. Arqam and, as we sat by his side, Husain said to him: Zaid. you have been able to acquire a great virtue that you saw Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) listened to his talk, fought by his side in (different) battles, offered prayer behind me. Zaid, you have in fact earned a great virtue. Zaid, narrate to us what you heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). He said: I have grown old and have almost spent my age and I have forgotten some of the things which I remembered in connection with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), so accept whatever I narrate to you, and which I do not narrate do not compel me to do that. He then said: One day Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) stood up to deliver sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and. exhorted (us) and said: Now to our purpose. O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah's call, (would bid good-bye to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my household I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family. .............
Sahih Muslim Book 031, Number 5920

It is fair to conclude that Allah, the just, sent Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the Quran for guidance, where as the prophet left the Quran and his family behind him and reminded us that we had a duty towards both of the weighty things.

Imamat in Shia is not different from the Imamat bestowed on the progeny of Ibrahim (AS). Because Islam is a perfect religion, Quran is perfect, the prophet is perfect and his sunnat/shariat is perfect, thus the preservers and protectors of this religion must be perfect in every way, a man we term as an Imam.

There must be a copy of a video of whatever Prophet Muhammad (SAW) did, to preserve his sunnah, without any disputes and discrepancies. This copy is the infallible Imam who cannot err, who is taught wisdom and knowledge by the prophet Himself, who would safeguard religion and shariat from any disputes and innovations. This Imam would bring nothing new but will only preserve. What ever this Imam does is whatever the prophet Did and thus this Imam will be the living role model, a reflection of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

Maybe that is why when we see that Deen e Islam was in trouble, there were always men who sacrificed everything in order to save the efforts of their grandfather, yes i am talking about Kerbala.

Certainly the Imams are the vicegerents of Allah over His creatures and they make the creatures know Allah. No one will enter Paradise except he who knows them and knows Him, and no one will enter Hell except he who denies them and denies Him. Allah the Glorified, has distinguished you with Islam and has chosen you for it. This is because it is the name of safety and the collection of honour.
Imam Ali (AS), Peak of Eloquence Sermon 152

You should know that among the creatures of Allah, the most distinguished person before Allah is the just Imam who has been guided (by Allah) and guides others. So, he stands by the recognised ways of the Prophet's behaviour and destroys unrecognised innovations. The (Prophet's) ways are clear and they have signs, while innovations are also clear and they too have signs. Certainly, the worst man before Allah is the oppressive Imam who has gone astray and through whom others go astray. He destroys the the accepted sunnah and revives abandoned innovations.
Imam Ali (AS), Peak of Eloquence Sermon 164

Certainly, there is no obligation on the Imam except what has been devolved on him from Allah, namely to convey warnings, to exert in good advice, to revive the sunnah, to enforce penalties on those liable to them and to issue shares to the deserving. So hasten towards knowledge before its vegetation dries up and before you turn yourselves away from seeking knowledge from those who have it. Desist others from the unlawful and abstain from it yourself, because you have been commanded to abstain (yourself) before abstaining (others).
Imam Ali (AS), Peak of Eloquence Sermon 105

Allah deputed prophets and distinguished them with His revelation. He made them as pleas for Him among His creation, so that there should not remain any excuse for people. He invited people to the right path through a truthful tongue. You should know that Allah fully knows creation. ........ Where are those who falsely and unjustly claimed that they are deeply versed in knowledge, as against us, although Allah raised us in position and kept them down, bestowed upon us knowledge but deprived them, and entered us (in the fortress of knowledge) but kept them out. With us guidance is to be sought and blindness (of misguidance) is to be changed into brightness. Surely Imams (divine leaders) will be from the Quraysh. They have been planted in this line through Hashim. It would not suit others nor would others be suitable as heads of affairs. They (who hate the Ahlulbayt) have adopted this world and abandoned the next world; left clean water and drunk stinking water. ....... Where are the minds which seek light from the lamps of guidance, and the eyes which look at minarets of piety? Where are the hearts dedicated to Allah, and devoted to the obedience of Allah? They are all crowding towards worldly vanities and quarrelling over unlawful issues. The ensigns of Paradise and Hell have been raised for them but they have turned their faces away from Paradise and proceeded to Hell by dint of their performances. Allah called them but they showed dislike and ran away. When Satan called them they responded and proceeded (towards him).
Imam Ali (AS), Peak of Eloquence Sermon 144

Sunnis however must agree the importance of an Imam after the demise of Prophet (SAW). Not confusing it with political appointment, the duty of the Imam in sunnis is very similar to that of the shia concept of Imamat. The difference however is appointment which was touched earlier on (above) and will be dealt with in other articles. Following are views from strict sunni texts and i will leave the interpretation to you.

 "The Imams (scholars of the four schools of thought- Shafi'i, Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali)- may Allah have mercy on them- agree that the Imamah (Leadership) is an obligation, and that the Muslims must appoint an Imam who would implement the deen's rites, and give the oppressed justice against the oppressors".
Imam Al-Juzayri, an expert on the Fiqh of the four great schools of thought in "Fiqh ul-Mathahib ul- Arba'a" [the Fiqh of the four schools of thought], volume 5, page 416.

"A'lamu anna Sahabata- Ridhwaan Allahu 'alayhim -Ajma'oo 'ala anna nasab al-Imaamata ba'd inqiraadhi zaman in-Naboowa waajibon bal ja'aloohu ahamu wajibaat hayth ushtaghloo bihi 'an dafani rasool illah". "It is known that the Sahabah (r.a.h) consented that selecting the Imaam after the end of the era of Prophethood was an obligation (Wajib).  Indeed they made it (more) important than the (other) obligations whilst they were busy with it over the burial of the Prophet (saw)".
Imam al-Haythami  in al-Haythami in Sawaa'iq ul-haraqah:17

 "...It is forbidden for Muslims to have two Imams in the world whether in agreement or discord."
Al-Imam Al-Juzieri, "Fiqh ul-Mathahib ul- Arba'a" (the fiqh of the four schools of thought), volume 5, page 416.

 “It is the majority opinion that there is a duty to appoint an Imam. But there is a difference, as to whether this is Allah’s duty or whether this is incumbent on the public. The belief in the eyes of Ahl'ul Sunnah and Muttazalites is that the duty to appoint an Imam is a duty of the public. In terms of hadith and logic this is a duty of the public. In accordance with this belief, there is a hadith in Sahih Muslim, narrated by Abdullah ibne Umar ‘He who dies without giving bayah to an Imam dies the death of one belonging to the days of jahiliyya’. This is why the Sahaba viewed the appointment of the Imam as so important that they preferred it to attending the Prophet’s funeral, because the Muslims need an Imam so that orders can be made on Jihad, and so that Islamic Laws can be implemented”
Sharh Fiqh Akbar, by Mulla Ali Qari, Chapter “Masala Nusbul Imamah” p 175 (publishers Muhammad Saeed and son, Qur'an Muhall, Karachi)

As Shi’a we believe that Allah (swt) knows what is best for His servants in the same way he appointed Prophet’s to guide mankind, he also appointed Imams to continue the mantle of guidance. We believe that the fallible human being is not competent enough to appoint an Imam that shall represent the Deen on a complete level. How can a man capable of mistakes ensure the smooth running of the Islamic State, free from incorrect edicts, rulings etc?

If the duty of the Imam is to preserve religion, a religion so perfect and flawless like Islam, will a fallible (man-chosen) imam's mistake lead whole of the ummah to err? This could naturally lead to disastarous consequences and we believe that this would go against the Justice of Allah (swt). Hence we argue that the Imam as the legitimate leader at the helm of the State has to be masum, since he shall rule solely by the rule of law, he shall be untouched by personal views, bribery, corruption and his goal shall be one, that of serving Allah (swt).

As Allama Talib Johri states,

And to every one We have appointed heirs of what parents and near relatives leave; and as to those with whom your rights hands have ratified agreements, give them their portion; surely Allah is a witness over all things.
Quran [4:33]

Quran gives a detailed breakdown of how to distribute one's property, it tells us how much shall our daughters have and how much shall our sons, irrespective of our personal desires. If Quran has not given us the right to appoint inheritors to our own property according to our own will, how can we appoint successors/inheritors for the Religion of Allah and Shariah of Muhammad (SAW).

Thus the Shia believe Imamat is a divinely appointed office. Coming back to a referenced argument provided by the Quran above, that Imams from the progeny of Ibrahim (AS) would not be unjust, and definitely not appointed by men.

 "And the messenger of Allah has pointed to this rank when he prayed to Allah Ta'ala about 'Ali, saying: "O Allah! turn the haqq with him wherever he ('Ali) turns"; and he did not say: Turn him ('Ali) wherever the haqq turns."
Shah Waliyullah, At-Tafhimatu l-Iahiyah Volume 2 page 22

Finally the Prophet's Waris (Executors) are of three types, those that possess Hikmah (Sagacity, wisdom), Ismah (Infallibility) and Qutbiyat Batiniyah (are Spiritual Pivots) they are his Ahl'ul bayt and special people".
At-Tafhimatu l-Iahiyah Volume 2 page 14

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