Ahl al Bayt (A.S.) and Infallibility
Allama Husayn Ansariyan
Infallibility (ismah) is a special intuitive state keeping man from committing sin and closing all doors to temptations. From this view, we can consider infallibility as something cognitive, which requires cognizance and something existential, for it is a virtue that man can obtain in his evolutionary strive with Allah’s favor.
Cognitive and pragmatic infallibility are virtues merely related to cognition and perception while some others are only pragmatic. For example, justice is a pragmatic virtue in man, which has nothing to do with man’s intuitive dimension. This valuable virtue keeps man from intentional or unintentional fault but ismah saves from ignorance, fault, negligence, oblivion, sophistry, and sinning. Therefore, an infallible (masum) is immune from any error in perception in the realm of cognizance, immune from wrongdoing in pragmatism, and immune from mistake in propagating religion.
The intuitive truth belongs to theoretical intellect; and abstaining from committing sins is related to pragmatically intellect though the origin of ismah of pragmatic intellect is the same as cognizance and intuitive intellect.
Ahl al-Bayt’s Infallibility
Based on the Holy Quran and narrations, the Ahl al-Bayt are infallible at the level of theoretical and pragmatic intellect; that is to say, they perceive everything correctly, execute it correctly, and convey their knowledge and insight to people correctly. So, there is no fault, ignorance or error in their understanding; nor is there error, rebellion or oblivion in the realm of pragmatic intellect.
About the Ahl al-Bayt’s infallibility, the Holy Quran says: Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House, and to purify you a thorough purifying. (33:33)
Allah’swill is aimed at purifying the knowledge and deeds of Ahl al-Bayt. Hence, He has made them masum in their knowledge and deeds.
If we are emphatically advised not to interpret the Holy Quran without the help of Ahl al-Bayt, it is because no human beings but Ahl al-Bayt are immune from misunderstanding and misinterpreting the Divine Book.
Man's Knowledge and Act
In ordinary human beings, there is a great difference between insight and action as well as between knowledge and the act. The gap between theoretical and pragmatic intellect becomes wider when man takes distance from his godly nature and sublime human position. Hence, one of these two intellects is always stronger or weaker than the other. The more man walks towards perfection the closer will be these two wings of flight come towards each other towards and at a point they will become one, in the same way that knowledge and act are one for the angles. In the first truth, which is the Holy Prophet, we can see the zenith of this unity.
Allah’s Knowledge and Act
As for Almighty Allah, knowledge and act are exactly the same and the two are exactly in His power: And there does not lie concealed from your Lord the weight of an atom in the earth or in the heaven. (10:61)
And your Lord is not forgetful. (19:64)
Allah is pragmatically free from any evil deed. One of these indecencies is injustice about which the Holy Quran says: And your Lord does not deal unjustly with anyone. (18:49)
In the sight of Almighty Allah, every evil deed, however small, is blameworthy. He says exonerating Himself from it: All this - the evil of it - is hateful in the sight of your Lord. (17:38)
Ahl al-Bayt’s Knowledge and Act
In the light of the previous discussion, we come to the conclusion that ismah is not solely cognitive or pragmatic, for the Prophets and the Imams, being godly, are infallible both in knowledge and deeds. For this reason, their knowledge and act are a proof until the Judgment Day for the people of all ranks.
Why Are Ahl al-Bayt(A.S.) Infallible?
Reporting Ibn Umayr, Muhammad ibn Babawayh in his valuable book, Dhakhirat al-Ibad, narrates the following: During my association with Husham ibn al-Hakam, I did not find but four best words only when I asked him, “Is the Imam infallible?” He answered, “Yes, he is.” I asked, “For what reason?” He said, All sins are rooted in greed, jealousy, wrath and lust. How can the Imam be greedy of the world when the whole world is under his command? How can the Imam be jealous while all creatures are below him? How can the Imam be wrathful when his wrath is for the sake of Allah? How can the Imam be lustful when he sees beautiful faces and blessings in heaven through contemplation and intuition?
Infallibility, the zenith of Piety
Ismah is virtually the light of theoretical and pragmatic intellect. An infallible man has the power to prevent the influence of illusion on theoretical intellect and to prevent the influence of lust and wrath on pragmatic intellect so that he will not be polluted with sin and he will strive voluntarily towards virtues and perfection. Pragmatic infallibility is the highest degree of piety which will become manifest in behaviors and deeds.
All the infallible Imams fully receive from Almighty Allah what is related to the guidance of man, comprehend it perfectly, fulfill it properly and convey it to others. This is only possible through intuition, for a man, in the world of illusion, presents his imaginations on the findings of intellect hence misleads others: Have you not seen those who have changed Allah's favor for ungratefulness and made their people to alight into the abode of perdition? (14:28)
The Infallibles Are Not Tempted by Satan
Should man live in the sanctuary of pure reason, he will be immune from inward and outward Satans: I will certainly lie in wait for them in thy straight path. (7:16)
Iblis (Satan) who threatens to mislead all human beings with all his power cannot find his way in a person who himself is a straight path, for Sirat which represents the infinite power of Allah is immune from all temptations. For the followers of the spiritual path, the straight path and the wayfarer are the same. Meanwhile, Satan lies in wait in the beginning of the path and not in the middle or in the final stages. Therefore, those who have traversed the major sections of the path by performing their religions obligations and have reached the stage of devotion are immune from temptations: I will certainly cause them all to deviate, except the servants from among them, the devoted ones. (15:39-40)
The Infallibles’ Knowledge and Act
One who has reached the station of cognitive and intuitive devotion do not misunderstand anything nor does he commit any error or have doubt in relation to perceptions, for the receiver of message is an abstract soul and the sender of message is Allah Who is pure knowledge. About the cognitive ismah, Imam Ali (a.s.) says: I have never had any doubt since the time I was presented with the truth.
This indicates that Imam Ali had reached the final stage of reunion with Almighty Allah. He had comprehension of the far-fetched truths, which is not available but for a masum through knowledge and intuition. Therefore, Imam Ali is the paragon of ‘There is no doubt in it’.
As for pragmatic ismah, we should say that those who have attained devotion reach this stage. This is when lust, wrath, jealousy, arrogance and hypocrisy have no way into his sanctuary.
An infallible person has gone through the stages of polarization, lust, wrath, love, enmity, like and dislike. He has reached the station of amity and detachment, which is the most perfect and the most valuable stage. One who has reached this latest stage considers Satan as the most hostile enemy of his inward and outward being. Hence, he suppresses Satan in the hardest way and comes under the guardianship of Allah: Surely, my guardian is Allah Who revealed the book and He befriends the good. (7:196)
It is the same righteous ones who will inherit the earth due to their ismah in perceptions and deeds: My righteous servants shall inherit it. (21:105)
Infallibility; Not Exclusive
When a man reaches the stage of devotion, he will be on a safe path. He is now a righteous and is placed under the guardianship of Allah. In this case, he will be immune from the temptations of Satan who has confessed that he will not harm the devoted ones. The word ‘devoted ones’ has a general meaning. Therefore, everyone can reach the station of ismah with endeavor, discipline and worship. Whatever is gained in the universe is due to Allah's favor: And whatever favor is bestowed on you it is from Allah. (16:53)
Allah is the True Agent
Man cannot possess anything without Allah having a part in it. Every being's existence is contingent on the Necessary Being. Hence, if there is any perfection in man, it comes from Allah. Even the true agent behind teaching common knowledge is Allah: He taught man what he knew not. (96:5)
We plough the land, sow the seeds and irrigate it but it is Allah who makes the seeds grow and come to fruition: Is it you that cause it to grow, or are we the causers of growth? (56:64)
Self-Purification; Premise of Infallibility
Man can attain ismah with discipline and self-purification. So ismah is not solely for the Prophets and the Imams; rather when one is Prophet or Imam, he is infallible, but not the opposite.
Man can keep himself from error, sin, and oblivion by self-purification. He can do so before puberty so as to be masum at puberty thanks to training and purification. Even those who have committed sins or errors can become masum in the future with the same method. One who enjoys Divine training may reach a stage of ismah where one will be immune from error in scientific issues: If you are careful of your duty to Allah, He will grant you distinction. (8:29)
Distinction means to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, by observing piety and in the light of discipline received from the saints, man can become a distinguisher of good and bad. In that case, he will neither misunderstand nor act wrongly. If it is said that a distinguisher may not know certain things, it is because like other virtues, ismah too has certain ranks.
Prophethood and Imamate Are Exclusive
Ismah is not exclusive. What is exclusive is Prophethood and Imamate which none can attain with endeavor even if one is totally purified: Allah best knows where He places His message. (6:124)
The Prophets are one hundred and twenty four thousand in number, and the Imams after the Holy Prophet are twelve in number; but ismah is a station available for anyone. Lady Fatimah (a.s) was neither a prophet nor an Imam, but she was masum. Mary, too, was masum.
Man enjoys such capacity that he can prepare for himself the ground for the manifestation of such blessing with knowledge and practice so that Allah will grant the station of ismah to him or her: And He gives you of all that you ask Him. (14:34)
This ‘asking’ is based on talent and Allah does not allow any talent to go to waste.
Ismah Can Be Acquired
One must note that ismah is an optional virtue in knowledge and action, hence it is a virtue, which, can be acquired in the light of Allah’sfavor. Therefore if a masum has not done something wrong, it means that he has opted not to commit anything wrong and not because he has been created masum by nature. Masum, as the Holy Quran says, is always equipped with Divine reasoning internalized in man and in this way man has suppressed the inner enemy and carnal desires.
Sin from The Viewpoints of the Infallible
A follower of the spiritual path and a masum see the evil nature and the result of the sin as it really is: As for those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies. (4:10)
Since the inner part of sin is fire, one who realizes this is immune from even thinking of sinning. At the end of the story of Aqil who requested more than his right from the public fund, Imam Ali (a.s.) says: A stranger incident is that a man comes to us in the night with a closed flask of honey paste yet I disliked it as though it was the saliva of a serpent or its vomit. I asked him whether it was a reward, or zakat (poor-tax) or charity, for these are forbidden to us, members of the Prophet's Household. He said it was neither this nor that but a present. Then, I said: Childless women may weep over you. Have you come to deviate me from the religion of Allah, or are you mad, or have some Jinn overpowered you, or are you speaking without senses?135
Imam Ali who is infallible sees bribe as the vomit of a serpent that a wise man never longs for.
Those who can really see are not ignorant
Imam Ali (a.s) describes the angels in a way that indicates how ismah has been internalized in them. Their description shows that they are watchful not to be caught in the trap of Satan. They are neither ignorant nor forgetful: The sleep of the eye or the slip of the wit or languor of the body or the effect of forgetfulness does not effect then.136
The Prophets and the Imams are like angels in being immune from error in thought, forgetfulness and indecent acts.
Human Power and Ismah
It is not that a masum is incapable of committing sin, rather he can commit sin but he never does so. At any rate, ismah both in its cognitive and pragmatic dimensions is not such that it will ruin the requirements of human power, for each power has requirements, which can be met lawfully and unlawfully. The sense of hearing likes sweet songs; the sense of seeing enjoys beautiful scenes; and so on. Hence, we should satisfy our senses lawfully.
Ahl al-Bayt(A.S.), at the zenith of Ismah
The Holy Prophet says about the infallibility of the Ahl al-Bayt and himself: I, Ali, Hasan, Husayn and the nine of the sons of Husayn are purified from uncleanness and are infallible.137
About himself and Lady Fatimah and the twelve Imams (a.s), the Holy Prophet )s) has also said: We are Ahl al-Bayt. Allah has purified us from all overt and covert uncleanness.138
In a clear statement on the ismah of the Prophets and the Imams, Imam al- Sadiq (a.s.) has said: The Prophets and their successors have no sin, for they are infallible and purified.139
Lady Fatimah, Imam Ali and the eleven sons of these two honorable persons have introduced themselves as purified from all pollutions and uncleanness as well as the devoted servants of Allah, who have closed all the doors to carnal desire and Satan.
135. Nahj al-Balaghah: 346, Sermon: 224
136. Nahj al-Balaghah: 39, Sermon: 1
137. Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha: 64/1, T 30
138. Al-Firdaws: 54/1
139. Al-Khisal: 608/2, H. 9