When did the belief in infallible and immaculate holy Imams (A.S.) Begin?
By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaykh Nasir Makarim Shirazi
We know that after the death of the Prophet of Islam, Muslims were divided into two groups: One group believed that the Holy Prophet did not designate a successor to himself. This group believes that he left it up to his nation to meet and decide among themselves who their leader should be. This group is called Sunnite.
The other group believes that the Holy Prophet was infallible, immaculate and free of sin and error and had knowledge so that he could spiritually and materially lead the people and preserve the essence of Islam so that it would find continuation.
They believe that selection of such a person could only come from God through the Holy Prophet of Islam and that the Holy Prophet did this and he selected Imam ‘Imam Ali (A.S.) as his successor. This group is called Shiites.
Our goal in these brief discussions is to follow-up these issues by using intellectual and historic reasoning verses, of the Holy Qur’an and Traditions of the Holy Prophet.
But before we begin the main discussion, several points should be mentioned.
1. Will this Discussion cause Differences?
The moment that the discussion centers on imamate, some people immediately say something to the effect that, “Today is not a day for such discussions!”
Today is the day to discuss Muslim unity and any discussion about the successor to the Holy Prophet only causes differences and separation!
Today we have common enemies and we have to do something about them, namely, Zionism and eastern and western coloniImam Ali (A.S.)sm. Conflicting issues must be put aside.
But this way of thinking is completely wrong.
In the first place, that which causes differences and separation is discussions and debates which are based on prejudice, illogic and hatred.
But discussions which are logical and reasonable free of discrimination and quarreling, held in a friendly environment, not only are not a cause for differences of opinion and separation, but rather they decrease the distances and common points of belief are strengthened.
In my journey to the Hijaz, with the intention of the pilgrimage to God’s House, I held many discussions with the scholars and learned Sunni men. Both of us felt that these discussions not only were not ineffective, but that they caused greater unity and understanding; they decreased the distance between the two sects and everyone washed away their prejudices.
The important thing is that which will become clear in these lessons; we have many points in common with one another and we can rely upon them in face of our Common enemy.
Sunnis are divided into four sects: Hanafis, HanbImam Ali (A.S.)s, Shafi’s, and MImam Ali (A.S.)kis. Existence of these four groups have not caused separation among them and when they, at least, accept Shi’ism as a fifth school of thought, many of the differences fall away. Recently, the great Muftis and head of the al-Ahzar University (in Cairo), Shaykh Shaltut, took an effective step and formally announced the acceptance of the Shi’ite school of thought among the Sunnis.
This was a step towards the understanding of Islam and establishing friendly relations between himself and the late Burujerdi, the great leader of the Shi’ites.
Secondly, we believe that Islam is crystallized in Shi’ism. While we have respect for all of the Islamic sects, we believe that Shi’ism can better introduce the real Islam in all of its dimensions and solve the problems related to the leadership of the Islamic community.
Why should we not teach our children this school with reason and logic and if we do not do this, clearly we have committed an act of treason.
We are certain that the Holy Prophet selected his successor. What is wrong with following up this belief with reason and logic?
But in these lessons, we must be careful that the religious emotions of others are not slighted.
Thirdly, in order to destroy the principles and unity of Muslims, the enemies of Islam tell such lies and so instigate Sunnis against Shi’ites, tell so many lies and so insult Shi’ites about the Sunnis so that in some countries, in general, they have grown distant from each other.
When we discuss the issue of imamate in the method described above, and mention the points which the Shi’ites emphasize, and we use proof from the books of the Sunnis, it becomes clear that the propaganda was lies and that the common enemy has tried to poison the environment.
As an example, in one of my trips to the Hijaz, I held a meeting with one of the important religious leaders of the Sunnis. He said, “I have heard that the Shi’ites have a Qur’an which is different from our Qur’an.”
I was very surprised. I said: “Proving that this was not true is very simple. I invite you or your representative to come to Iran after the hajj umrah, without any previous notification. You will see that on every street, in every bazaar or mosque or home, there are Qur’ans. We will go into any mosque that you choose, and study the Qur’ans there. So that it becomes clear that our Qur’an and yours are exactly the same. Most of the Qur’ans which we use are printed in the hijaz or in Egypt and other Islamic countries.”
This very friendly conversation clearly did away with the amazing misconceptions which had been planted in the mind of one of the famous religious leaders.
The point is that a discussion on imamate, in this manner, confirms the unity of Islamic society, helps in clarifying the truths and decreasing the differences of opinion.
2. What is Imamate?
Imam means leader, leader of the Muslims. In the principles of belief of the Shi’ites, an immaculate or pure Imam refers to a person who is the successor to the Holy Prophet in all areas, with the difference that the Holy Prophet is the founder of the school and the Imam is the guardian and preserver of it. Revelation was revealed to the Holy Prophet but not to the Imams. They learned from the Holy Prophet and they had an extraordinary knowledge.
From the point of view of Shi’ism, an immaculate Imam does not just mean leader of Islamic rule, but rather, includes spiritual and material, internal and external leadership as well. In other words, they are responsible for leadership on all levels; they are responsible for the preservation and guardianship of Islamic beliefs and ideology, without any errors or deviation and they are the selected people of God.
But the Sunnis do not see imamate in this way. They only understand imamate as leader of the rule of Islamic society. In other words, leadership in every age and time is the cImam Ali (A.S.)ph of the Prophet and the Imam of the Muslims!
Of course, in the future lessons we will prove that in every age and era, there must be a divine representative; a prophet or a pure Imam must be upon the earth to preserve the precepts of truth and guide those who long for the truth.
If one day this person is hidden from the people, a person, as his representative, is responsible for the preservation of the precepts and the formation of a government.
Think and Answer
1. What is the reason behind people saying that to day is not a day to hold such discussions about imamate?
2. In response to this, how many answers can you give for the necessity of this discussion?
3. How does the enemy cause disputes among the Muslims and what is the way to seal these breaks?
4. Can you recall an example of a dispute which is caused by the enemy?
5. What is the meaning of imamate in Shi’ism and what is the difference with the definition given by the Sunnis?
The Philosophy of the Existence of Imams (Guides)
The discussion which we had about the necessity for sending of the Holy Prophet by God, makes us familiar, to a certain extent, with the necessity for the existence of an Imam after the Prophet because in many of the important issues, they hold things in common, but here it is important to mention other reasons, as well.
1. Spiritual Perfection along with Divine Leadership
Before anything else, we must seek out the goal for the creation of human beings which is the highest creature of the world of Creation.
They take a way which is long and full of twists and turns towards God, towards Absolute Perfection, towards spiritual perfection in all dimensions.
Without doubt, this way cannot be taken and the goal cannot be attained without the presence of a pure leader and it is not possible to undertake this way without a leader who is a heavenly teacher because: It is a way full of darkness and the dangers of becoming lost.
It is clear that God created the human beings with their own free will and choice and gave them a conscience and a heavenly book and sent his prophets to them but it is possible that the human being, in spite of all of these facilities and possibilities, err upon the way.
Clearly, the presence of an infallible leader will help to prevent the danger of deviation and going astray to a great extent, and in this way, all existence of the Imam is necessary to complete the goal of creation of human beings.
This is that very thing which is called ‘the law of kindness’. What is meant by this is that God, the Wise, has seen to all of the affairs of the human being to reach the goal of creation among which is the sending of the prophets and the selection of pure Imams, otherwise there would be an imperfection in purpose. (Note this carefully).
2. Guardian of the Heavenly Laws
We know that the Divine religions, at the time of their descent to the prophets, are like a drop of rain water, pure, life-giving and nurturing, but the moment one enters an environment which is polluted and brains become weak or impure, gradually they are polluted and superstitions are added to them so that the purity of the first day is lost; in this state, neither do they have attractions, nor any educational effects, nor do they quench the thirst, nor do they blossom forth in flowers of virtue.
It is here that an infallible leader must always act as a guardian of the authenticity of a school, and the being pure of the religious programs alongside it so that they guard against any deviation, extremism,Imam Imam Ali (A.S.) (A.S.)en ideas and superstitions because if religious precepts be without such a leader, in a very short period of time, they will lose their authenticity and sincerity.
For this reason, ‘Imam Ali (A.S.), peace be upon him, in his Sermon 147 in the Nahj al-Balaghah says, “Yes. The earth will never be empty of a person who has arisen with the proof of God, whether through appearing of being known or being hidden, so that the Divine proof and signs not be falsified.”
In truth, the heart of Imam, peace be upon him, is just like a safety deposit box in which important documents are always placed, so that they be preserved against thieves and other accidents and this is another reason for the existence of the Imam.
3. The Political and Social Leadership of the Ummah
Doubtlessly, no social group or gathering can continue to beImam Imam Ali (A.S.) (A.S.)ve if it is not led by a strong leader. Because of this, from the earliest times to the present, all tribes and nations have selected a leader for themselves who was, sometimes, a good person and very often, not so.
It was often the case that by making use of the needs of the ummah for a leader, a tyrant, who had coercion and who deceived the people, was imposed upon them and he took the power in hand.
On the other hand, in order for human beings to be able to reach spiritual perfection, they must take this way, not alone, but with a group or a society because the power of an individual from the intellectual, physical, material and spiritual point of view, is very limited whereas the power of a group is very strong.
But for a society, it is necessary that a correct system rule over ‘it and human talents blossom to struggle against deviations, preserve the rights of all individuals and for reaching this great goal, programming and organization is necessary and the motives be mobilized for motion in a free environment in all of society.
It is a fact that human beings sin. Because of this, human beings have always born witness to the political deviation of the world. The necessity for a pure leader, sent on behalf of God Almighty to supervise this important issue and, also, making use of the people’s power and the great thoughts of scholars, prevents any kind of deviation.
This is another of the philosophies behind the existence of the Imam and another, we repeat, is to be a guide.
Thus the duty of the people at the special times when the pure Imam is in occultation has become clear and, with the will of God, we will speak about it in later lessons.
4. The Necessity of the Final Proof
Not only must the heart be guided by the rays of the existence of the Imam, and follow its way towards absolute perfection, but for those who knowingly and consciously follow the wrong way and who have gone astray, there must be a final proof so that if they are promised a chastisement, it will not be without reason and no one can complain that no one had showed them the way and if they had been shown, they would not have gone astray.
In other words, it is to close the way to excuses that the proof of the truth is given to the necessary extent, and awareness is given to the unaware and to the aware, to gain strength of will power.
5. The Imam is a Great Intermediate for Divine Grace
Many of the scholars — following the Islamic Traditions — compare the existence of the Prophet and the Imam in human society in the total world of Creation to the existence of a heart in the body of the human being.
We know that when the heart beats, blood is sent to all the parts of the body and it nurtures all of the cells of the body.
Because the pure Imam, in the form of a perfect human being and leader of human society, is the cause for the descent of Divine Favor or Grace, and every individual, to the extent of their being in touch with the Prophet, and the Imam, can benefit from this Grace or Favor, and the Imam benefits from this very Grace, it must be said that to the same extent that the existence of the heart is necessary for a human being, the existence of this in intermediate for Divine Grace is also necessary for the activities of the world of humanity. (Note this with care).
Let it not be mistaken. The Prophets and Imams have nothing of themselves to give to others, that whatever is given is given by God, but just like the heart is an intermediate for the transmission of Divine Grace to the body. The Prophets and Imams, also, are intermediates for Divine Grace for human beings in all groups.
Think and Answer
1. What is the role of the Imam, peace be upon him, in the spiritual perfection of the human being?
2. What is the role of the Imam, peace be upon him, in the guarding of the Divine Law?
3. What is the role of the Imam, peace be upon him, in the issue of leadership of rule and the system of society?
4. What does ‘final proof’ mean and what role does the Imam play in this?
5. What does the intermediation of Grace mean? What is the best analogy which can be given for the role of the Prophets and Imams from this point of view?