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We believe that a true and comprehensive understanding of Islam would not be possible without careful recognition of the Prophetic Tradition and the Prophet's Household. And Allah is the Source of Strength.

Who are The Twelve Imams

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 Letter 14
: Imamat in Detail


Having discussed the Concept and Existence of the station of Imamat in Islam , the question arises who are the people who occupy the station of Imamat.

In man's examination in this world, and in his quest for seeking closeness to the Reality of Allah, it is the Khalifatullah who guides man to Allah. Though Allah is closer to his slave than his jugular vein and the relationship between Allah and his creations is also direct, the Khalifatullah can bring the slave closer to Allah and to the path ordained by Allah, both as a guide as well as an intercessor. The Khalifatullah thus represents Allah's authority on Earth and guides man to the straight path, the sirat al-mustaqim of Sura al Hamdh. He is the Imam, another word that also denotes a man of authority among men, a title that as used by the Shia incorporates the role of the Khalifatullah. This authority is comprehensive, for Allah has authority over all aspects of our lives. The existence of the Khalifatullah or the Imam is thus rational for those who believe that Allah is Just and is Merciful. His existence can be sensed from the intellectual reasoning of even those opposed to the Shia path and who do not believe that Allah appoints the Khalifa, Abul A'la Mawdoodi writing that "Khalifa, viceregent, is one who exercises the delegated powers on behalf of the supreme authority..."

Allah has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will certainly appoint them Khalifas as he appointed Khalifas those before him.
Quran [24:55]

Many copies of the Qur'an compiled in English by translators who do not follow the Khalifas appointed by Allah will specifically use an alternative word to describe the word Khalifa in this context, when there is no grammatical justification for this, for the Arabic states Khalifa and this word is readily translated into English as khalifa or caliph, an English word.

Furthermore, Allah states in the above Sura that He will appoint those who have faith and do good deeds to the position of the Khalifatullah, the hallmark of faith being patience, as shall be proved later, and these virtues are exemplified by the Twelve Imams of the Shia to the extent that they alone fulfilled the requirements to be the Khalifas of Allah from all men of their age.

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.
Quran [2:124]

Thus Imamat is bestowed on the just from the offspring of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). Why Allah chose this lineage was because they produced men that were capable of fulfilling the requirements of the covenant of Imamat, faith and good actions. It is also be seen that this lineage comes from the place from where all the races of mankind originated from - the Middle East - where lie buried so many of these Khalifas of Allah, from the first Adam (as) to Imam Hasan Al Askari (as), the Eleventh Imam of the Shia and the father of the present Imam (as).

Ibrahim (AS) did not started to appoint Imams on his own, but inquired from Allah if his progeny will have Imams, and with Allah's consent, they will.

Thus we can conclude from the two verses (2:124 and 24:55),

Let us look at Quran regarding who the unjust are.

And (We said): O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden; so eat from where you desire, but do not go near this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.
Quran [7:19]

 .... And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all heedless of what you do.
Quran [2:140]

 He makes whom He pleases to enter into His mercy; and (as for) the unjust, He has prepared for them a painful chastisement.
Quran [76:31]

These our people have taken gods besides Him; why do they not produce any clear authority in their support? Who is then more unjust than he who forges a lie against Allah?
Quran  [18:15]

And as to those who believe and do good deeds, He will pay them fully their rewards; and Allah does not love the unjust.
Quran [3:57]

O you who believe! let not (one) people laugh at (another) people perchance they may be better than they, nor let women (laugh) at (other) women, perchance they may be better than they; and do not find fault with your own people nor call one another by nicknames; evil is a bad name after faith, and whoever does not turn, these it is that are the unjust.
Quran [49:11]

Nay! those who are unjust follow their low desires without any knowledge; so who can guide him whom Allah makes err? And they shall have no helpers
Quran [30:29]

Then as to Ad, they were unjustly proud in the land, and they said: Who is mightier in strength than we?......
Quran [41:15]

Allah only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of (your) religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust.
Quran [60:9]

And who is more unjust than he who prevents (men) from the masjids of Allah, that His name should be remembered in them, and strives to ruin them? ....
Quran [2:114]

Thus we know that:

Being Just then is infallibility but in name. To now know who is the Imam, look for someone who belongs to the lineage of prophet Ibrahim (AS), who obeys the commands of Allah, doesnot innovate in religion, is loved by Allah, was never a polytheist, has never commited himself in evil doing, doesnot follow his low desires, has knowledge, is not proud, hates those who hate Islam and promote the worship of Allah.

I just realized that the qualities we were looking in a person for an Imam were just the description of Ali ibn Abu Talib. It was Ali ibn Abu Talib who since his birth was under the strict supervision of Prophet of Islam. It was the same Ali who was the first defender of Islam and who was given the flag at khyber,

Narrated Sahl: On the day (of the battle) of Khaibar the Prophet said, "Tomorrow I will give the flag to somebody who will be given victory (by Allah) and who loves Allah and His Apostle and is loved by Allah and His Apostle." So, the people wondered all that night as to who would receive the flag and in the morning everyone hoped that he would be that person. Allah's Apostle asked, "Where is 'Ali?"
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 253

It was this very Ali who claimed he had knowledge of the book,

"The Holy Quran has outward and inward meanings, and Ali Ibn Abi Talib has the knowledge of both."
Hilyatul Awliyaa, by Abu Nu'aym, v1, p65

Imam Ali (as): “Ask me about the Book of Allah, because there is no Ayah but that I know whether it was revealed at night or in daytime, on the plain or in the mountain”
History of the Khailfa’s who took the right way by Jalaladeen Suyuti, pg 194

We had always seen Ali shed blood of the disbelievers in the battle fields before and after the demise of the Prophet.

The Messenger of Allah said to Ali: "Your position to me is like the position of Aaron (Haroon) to Moses, except that there shall be no Prophet after me"
Sahih al-Bukhari, Arabic-English version, Traditions 5.56, 5.700
Sahih Muslim, Arabic, v4, pp 1870-71
Sunan Ibn Majah, p12
Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, p174
al-Khasa'is, by al-Nisa'i, pp 15-16
Mushkil al-Athar, by al-Tahawi, v2, p309

Let us see what the Quran tells us.

And We appointed with Musa a time of thirty nights and completed them with ten (more), so the appointed time of his Lord was complete forty nights, and Musa said to his brother Haroun: Take my place among my people, and act well and do not follow the way of the mischief-makers.
Quran [7:142]

Haroon (as) was Musa (as)'s Brother, Vizier, and in his absence the Khalifa (arabic word used in 7:142). The Prophet (PBUH&HF) thereby meant that as Moses had left behind Aaron to look after his people when he went to Miqaat (meeting Allah), in the same way he was leaving Ali behind to look after the affairs of Islam after he met Allah (i.e., his death). Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a prophet as well as an Imam. Thus after his demise, Mawla Ali took the place of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), except that there was no prophet after Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Mawla Ali (AS) was left with the position of Imamat.  Let this reminder be food of thought for the possessors of pure heart and open mind.

Now coming to the blessed figure, twelve.

"I have heard your prayer for Ishmael. I have blessed him and will make him fruitful. I will multiply his descendants; he shall be the father of twelve princes; and I will raise a great nation from him."
Genesis: 17,19-20, New English Bible

Neither are these 12 princes the 12 founders of the 12 tribes of Israel, for they were from Ishmael (as)'s brother Ishaq (as), nor were they the 12 Arabs mentioned later on in the Bible, for they were not men of authority in the way of princes. They are the 12 Khalifas of Allah that followed the Holy Prophet (saws), after whom the Ithna Ashari Shia, or Twelver Shia, are named, and whose names adorn the Mosque of their father the Holy Prophet (saws) in Madina to this day.

 "The affairs of the people will continue to be conducted as long as they are governed by 12 men, he than added from Quraysh."
Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 4478, English translation by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui

 Narrated By Jabir bin Samura: I heard the Prophet saying, "There will be TWELVE Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world)." He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, "All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraish."
Sahih Bukhari , Volume , Book 89. Judgments (Ahkaam) Hadith 329.

Ahadith similar to that narrated above can also be found in
Book 20. On Government. Hadith 4477. (Sahih Muslim)
Book 20. On Government. Hadith 4478. (Sahih Muslim)
Book 20. On Government. Hadith 4480. (Sahih Muslim)
Book 20. On Government. Hadith 4481. (Sahih Muslim)
Book 20. On Government. Hadith 4482. (Sahih Muslim)
Book 31. The Promised Deliverer. Hadith 4266. (Abu Dawud)
Book 31. The Promised Deliverer. Hadith 4267. (Abu Dawud)

Please do write us the twelve Muslim rulers from Quraysh. And is it logical to have only twelve rulers over a period of fourteen hundred years?

As a final point in this discussion it is worth considering the marvelous nature of the lineage of the Khalifas of Allah and its situation in our time. We mentioned earlier how the Imamat that was conferred upon Ibrahim Khalilluah was monumental in the history of the Imamat, incepting the beginning of the divide between the Khalifatullahs descended from Ishaq (as) and later those from the lineage of Ishmael (as), the Arabs.

Mulla Ali Qari sets out who the 12 khalifas/Imams are:
1. Abu Bakr
2. Umar
3. Uthman
4. Ali
5. Mu'awiya
6. Yazid bin Mu'awiya
7. Abdul Malik bin Marwan
8. Walid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
9. Sulayman bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
10. Umar bin Abdul Aziz
11. Yazid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
12. Hasham bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan;
Sharra Fiqa Akbar, by Mulla Ali Qari, p 176

This was one route, now lets have a look at the other path - the path of the Ahlul Bayt e Muhammad (saww):

  1. Imam Abul-Hasan Ali ibn e Abi Talib (al-Murtaza) (as)
  2. Imam Abu Muhammad al-Hassan (al Mujtaba) (as)
  3. Imam Abu Abdallah al-Hussain bin Ali (Sayyid al-Shuhada) (as)
  4. Imam Abu Muhammad Ali bin al-Hussain (Zainul-'Abideen) (as)
  5. Imam Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Ali (al-Baqir) (as)
  6. Imam Abu Abdallah Ja'far bin Muhammad (al-Sadiq) (as)
  7. Imam Abu Ibrahim Musa bin Ja'far (al-Kazim) (as)
  8. Imam Abu al-Hasan Ali bin Musa (al-Reza) (as)
  9. Imam Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Ali (Taqi al-Jawaad) (as)
  10. Imam Abul-Hasan Ali bin Muhammad al-Hadi al-Naqi(as)
  11. Imam Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin Ali (al-Askari) (as)
  12. Imam Abul-Qasim Muhammad bin al-Hasan (al-Mahdi) (as)

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says: "We are the remnant of progeny. And that was the prayer of Ibrahim (a.s.) regarding us."

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