Imamat and Khilafat
Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari
The discussion of the question of Imamat may raise certain queries in the mind of our readers. Here we advance our views about these queries. In this respect the main questions are only two.
I. Every nation tries to project the good points of its history, and as far as possible wants to conceal its weaknesses. The events in which an institution or an ideology may take pride are considered to be the signs of its authenticity and veracity, and the unpleasant events of its history create doubts about its genuineness and are regarded as the signs of the weakness of its creative power. Hence the discussion of the question of Imamat and Khilafat, especially the repeated narration of the ugly events of the early Muslim period is likely to diminish the religious zeal and fervor of the new generation, which is already passing though a spiritual crisis. In the past such a discussion might have produced the desired results and diverted the attention of the Muslims from one denomination to another. But in modern times it only weakens faith in the very fundamentals. When others conceal the ugly aspects of their history, why should we, the Muslims try to bring out the ugly aspects of our history and even magnify them?
We do not concur with the above views. We affirm that should the review of history mean to bring out the undesirable events only, the effect will be as disastrous as stated above. But it is also a fact that if we remain contented with portraying only the bright aspects of our history and suppress the unpleasant events, that would mean a distortion of history, not a review of it.
Basically no history is free from ugly and undesirable events. History of every nation, and basically history of mankind, is a bundle of pleasant and unpleasant events. It cannot be otherwise. Allah has created no people free from sins. The difference between the history of various nations, communities and creeds lies in the proportion of the happy and ugly events and not in the fact that anyone of them has only happy or only ugly events.
The Holy Quran has very beautifully expressed the fact that man has good as well as bad points. The summary of what it has said is that Allah informed the angels of His intention to create a vicegerent (Adam). The angels who knew only the weak points of the new being, were astonished and wanted to know what considerations prompted Allah to take such an action. Allah told them that He knew the good and the bad points of that being and that they were not aware of all the characteristics of that being.
If we look at the history of Islam from the view-point of the events manifesting faith and human values, we will find that it has no rival. This history is full of heroic deeds. It is laden with lustre and brilliance and is replete with a display of human qualities. The existence of a few ugly spots does not tarnish its beauty and majesty.
No nation can claim that its history possesses more bright events than the history of Islam, or that the ugly events of Islamic history are more numerous than the ugly events of its own history.
A Jew in order to taunt Imam Ali with the events which took place in the early period of Islam over the question of Khilafat, said: "You no sooner buried your Prophet, than began quarrelling about him.
What a beautiful reply Imam Ali gave! He said: "You are wrong. We did not differ about the Prophet himself. We differed only as to what instructions we had received from him. But your feet had not dried of sea water when you said to your Prophet: "Appoint a god for us like the gods they have." He said: "You are an ignorant people." (Nahjul Balaghah)
Imam Ali meant to say: "Our differences did not relate to the principles of Monotheism and Prophethood. What we differed about was whether the Quran and Islam foresaw a particular person to be the successor to the Holy Prophet or his successor was to be elected by the people. In contrast you Jews during the very lifetime of your Prophet raised a question which was entirely contrary to your religion and the teachings of your Prophet."
Furthermore, even if it is supposed that in ordinary cases it is permissible to overlook the ugly events of history, how can it be proper to ignore the most basic question affecting the destiny of Islamic, society, that is the question of Islam's leadership. To overlook such a question means overlooking the well-being of the Muslims.
Moreover, if it is a fact that some historical rights have been violated and those to whom these rights were due were the most virtuous personalities of the Muslim Ummah, then overlooking these historical facts would mean nothing but cooperation between the tongue and the pen on the one hand and the sword of injustice on the other.
II. The second objection to the discussion of these questions is that such a discussion is inconsistent with the duty of ensuring Islamic unity. All the misfortunes of the Muslims have been due to the communal differences. It is communal discord and disturbances which has swept away the Muslim power, damaged the Muslims' dignity and made them subservient to alien nations. The most effective weapon in the hand of colonialism, whether old or new, is the enflaming of these old rancours. In all Muslim countries without exception the lackeys of colonialism are busy with creating dissension among the Muslims in the name of religion and sympathy with Islam. Have we not already suffered enough on account of these old disputes so that we should continue to pursue them? Do not such discussions mean helping colonialism?
In reply to this criticism, we would like to say that there is no doubt that unity is the most important requirement of the Muslims, and that these old rancours are the basic cause of all troubles in the Muslim world. It is also true that the enemy is always ready to exploit these disputes. But it appears that the critic has misunderstood the concept of Muslim unity.
Muslim unity which has been a subject of discussion among the scholars and the broad-minded sections of the Muslims does not mean that the Muslim sects should ignore their principles of faith and articles of acts for the sake of unity, adopt the common features of all the sects and set aside the peculiarities of all. How can this be done when this is neither logical nor practical. How can the followers of any sect be asked to ignore for the sake of preserving the unity of Islam and the Muslims, any of their beliefs or practical principles which they consider to be a part of the basic structure of Islam? Such a demand would mean to overlook a part of Islam in the name of Islam?
There are other ways of persuading people to stick to a principle or to give it up. The most natural of them is to convince others by means of logical argumentation. Faith is not a matter of expedience, nor can it be imposed on any people or taken away from them at will.
We are Shi'ahs and are proud of following the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet. We do not regard as compromisable any act which has been even slightly commended or condemned by the Holy Imams. In this regard we are not willing to fulfil the expectation of anybody, nor do we expect others to give up any of their principles in the name of expediency or for the sake of Muslim unity. All that we expect and wish is the creation of an atmosphere of good will so that we, who have our own jurisprudence, traditions, scholastic theology, philosophy, exegesis and literature, should be able to offer our goods as the best goods, so that the Shi'ah should no more be isolated and so that the important markets of the Muslim world should not be closed to the fine material of Shi'ah Islamic knowledge.
The adoption of the common Islamic features and the rejection of the peculiarities of all sects is contrary to the compound consensus of opinion among the Muslims and the product of this action will be something absolutely un-Islamic, for the peculiarities of some sect or other must be the basic part of the structure of Islam. Islam bereft of all peculiarities and distinguishing features has no existence.
The most prominent among those who advanced the noble idea of Islamic unity, in our times, have been the late Ayatullah Burujardi among the Shiah and Allamah Shaykh Abdul Majid and Allamah Shaykh Mahmud Shaltut among the Sunnis. But they never had such a view of Islamic unity in their mind. All that these learned men advocated was that the various Muslim sects in spite of their different theologies should on the basis of the large number of common features existing among them, form a common front against the dangerous enemies of Islam. These learned men never proposed under the name of Islamic unity a religious unity which is not practical.
In fact, there is a technical difference between a united party and a united front. A united party requires that all its members should have a common ideology and a common way of thinking in all matters except their personal affairs, whereas a common front means that various parties and groups, despite their ideological differences should, by means of the common features existing among them, form a common front against their common enemy. The formation of a common front against the common enemy is not inconsistent with defending one's ideology and inviting other members of the front to follow it. The main idea of the late Ayatullah Burujardi was to pave the ground for the dissemination of the knowledge of the Prophet's chosen descendants among his Sunni brethren. He believed that this was not possible without creating good will and understanding. The success he achieved in the publication of some theological books of the Shi'ah in Egypt by the Egyptians themselves, was one of the most important achievements of the Shi'ah scholars.
May Allah reward him for the services he rendered to the cause of Islam and the Muslims!
Anyhow, the advocacy of the thesis of Islamic unity does not demand that we should feel shy of telling the facts. What is to be avoided is to do any thing that may injure the feelings and sentiments of other parties. As for a scientific discussion, it relates to the domain of logic and reason, not to that of sentiments and feelings.
Fortunately in our times there have appeared a good number of Shi'ah scholars who are following this healthy policy, the most prominent of them being Ayatullah Sayyid Sharafuddin Amili, Ayatullah Kashiful Ghita and Ayatullah Shaykh Abdul Husayn Amini, the author of the prominent book, Al-Ghadir.
The events of Imam Ali's life and the policy he pursued, which has now been practically forgotten and is rarely mentioned, provide a good example in this respect.
Imam Ali did not refrain from speaking of his right and claiming it, nor did he hesitate to complain against those who snatched it away from him. His keen interest in Islamic unity did not prevent him from raising his voice frankly. His numerous sermons in Nahjul Balaghah are a testimony to this fact. But all his grievances did not impel him to leave the ranks of the Muslims struggling against their opponents. He took part in the Friday and other congregational prayers. He accepted his share of the booty of that time. He always gave sincere counsel to the Caliphs and was counted as one of their advisers.
During the war of the Muslims against the Iranians the Caliph then intended to take part in the fighting personally. Imam Ali said to him: "Do not go to the front, for so long as you are in Madina, the enemy thinks that even if the whole Muslim army is wiped out, you will send reinforcement from the centre. But if you personally go to the battlefield, they will say: Here the mainstay of the Arabs is. And then they will concentrate all their forces to kill you, and if they kill you, the Muslims will be totally demoralized". (See: Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 146)
That was the regular policy that Imam Ali pursued. But he never accepted any post under the Caliphs. He did not consent to be a military commander, the governor of a province, the Amir of Hajj, nor did he accept any other such appointment for its acceptance would have meant the renunciation of his own well-established claim. In other words, the acceptance of an official post would have been something more than mere cooperation and preservation of Islamic unity. Although he himself did not accept any post, he did not prevent his relatives and friends from accepting such posts, because that did not mean the endorsement of the Caliphate.
Imam Ali's behaviour in this respect was very graceful and a sign of his dedication to the Islamic objectives. While others divided, he united; while others tore apart, he patched up.
Abu Sufyan tried to take advantage of the displeasure of Imam Ali. He pretended to be a well-wisher of him and tried to wreak his own vengeance by showing respect to the Holy Prophet's legatee, but Imam Ali was shrewd enough not to be hoodwinked by him. He with his hand struck Abu Sufyan's chest as a sign of rejection of his offer and turned him away.(See Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 5).
Abu Sufyans and Hayy ibn Akhtabs are always busy with their evil designs. Hayy ibn Akhtabs' finger can be seen in many happenings. It is the duty of the Muslims, especially the Shi'ah to keep Imam Ali's traditions in this respect before their eyes and not to be deceived by Abu Sufyans and Hayy ibn Akhtabs.
These were the objections of those who oppose the question of leadership and this is our reply to them.
What is amazing is that some other people raise objections quite contrary to these objections. This group wants the question of Islamic leadership to become rather a regular pursuit. It wants this question to be discussed in season and out of season and repeated like a slogan. But this group is not interested in its being dealt with in a scientific and instructive way. It wants to keep the feelings strained, but is not interested in satisfying intellectual quest or sharpening wits. And that is what the enemy wishes. Otherwise if the question is discussed in a learned manner, there is no reason why it should become a pursuit?
Imamat and Dialectic Logic
II. An Extract From Notes
Dialectic logic denies that society needs guidance or leadership, According to this logic at the most society needs an intellectual and leader to bring inequities, contradictions and inequalities existing in society to the consciousness of the masses so that dialectic movement may be initiated. As this movement is compulsive, the passage from thesis and anti-thesis to synthesis is unavoidable. Therefore society automatically traverses its course and in the end attains perfection.
The leaflet - Leadership, Imamat, Dialectic, says: "One of the important questions concerning leadership and Imamat, especially the Islamic conception of Imamat is: What is the role of the so-called intellectual? Is his duty and responsibility merely to depict the inequities and inequalities, awaken the consciousness of the exploited classes and inculcate the existence of real class contradiction in the mind of the deprived masses? Is it true that once the masses become conscious of the existing contradictions, society moves forward -automatically and dialectically"
The fact is that above all other things society needs leadership, guidance and Imamat. Development is not the essential result of the contradictions. Development is not possible without guidance and leadership. Dr. Ali Shari'ati in the last pages of his booklet, Wherefrom to Begin has elaborately discussed this question under the heading, Responsibility and Mission of an Intellectual. He says: "Briefly the responsibility of an intellectual is to transmit the inequities within society to the self-consciousness of the people of that society. Then society performs its own movement."
Anyhow, after a few lines he makes some remarks, which are contrary to the above statement, and support society's need of guidance and leadership.
Dr. Shari'ati says: "It has been supposed that from the point of view of leadership an intellectual has no responsibility. Dialectic contradiction chooses its own way. An intellectual's duty is confined to portraying contradictions and rousing the underprivileged classes against the ruling classes." But only after a few lines he talks of "determining a solution and the common ideals of society and of inculcating zeal and a sense of common faith ...." These remarks are contrary to the theory that society performs its own movement. When Dr Shari'ati speaks of dialectic corollary of the triangle of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis and of compulsory development, he is consistent, but when he makes his subsequent remarks, he speaks against his own postulates.
Leadership and Protection of Faith
The scholastic theologians have greatly emphasized that Imam is the protector and preserver of faith and religion. Probably it is supposed that he protects religion in the same way as a building is first erected and then it is maintained and protected against a possible damage by rain, wind etc. Hence there appears to be no need that a building built by an unrivalled builder should be preserved by a person having almost the same degree of skill as the original builder. For example there has never been felt any need that there should exist some persons of the calibre of those who created the Masjid Shah, Ali Qapu, the dome of Masjid Shaykh Lutfullah, the Bayasanqari inscription of Masjid Gowhar Shad, the writings of Meer and Bayasanqar, the hand-written Qurans and other master-pieces.
But the fact is that a damage to religion is not a simple affair. According to psychological and sociological principle as soon as a revolutionary movement succeeds and the enemy despairs of continuing his face to face confrontation, he ceases to resist it openly and on the basis of his assessment of his own advantage, he sometimes even joins the movement, not because he has really been converted to it, but purely with a view to exploit its success. He utilizes the movement for his own ends without having faith in its spirit and objectives. That is what happened during the constitutional movement of Iran. The opponents of the constitutional government joined the movement, and pretended to be its staunch supporters. Ayanuddawlah and Sadr ul Ashraf became prime ministers of the constitutional government. Such people not only preserve the external features of the movement, but also try to furnish it with further adornments. Anyhow, they destroy its spirit, its reality and its core, and empty it from within. In the words of Imam Ali in this process, "Islam is overturned as a pot is overturned." (See Nahjul Balgha -- Sermon 103)Thus they divert the movement from its right course, preserving its shape and appearance but altering its content and nature. As most people are only superficial observers and prone to take things for their face value, they remain happy and satisfied, for they find the externalities safe to the utmost extent. They do not realize that the fundamentals have vanished. It is here that mature thinking and deep observation are required. When Imam Ali said: "In every generation we have irreproachable successors who defend us against the deviation of the fanatics and the pretensions of the liars", he might have referred to the Holy Imams themselves or to the honest scholars who keep a watch on the people's belief in the Imams. It may be mentioned that struggle against innovations in religion is not confined to those cases in which a law is openly violated or something that has nothing to do with religion is intentionally introduced into religion. Sometimes people's way of thinking in regard to religion is so perverted that they begin to have aversion to right thinking. What we mean to emphasize is that there is no fear of any harm being incurred by Islam from outside the Muslim world. The Quran says: "Those who disbelieve have now despaired of doing any damage to your religion. Therefore do not fear them; but have fear of Me." But there exists a definite threat to Islam from inside. In this connection the greatest threat is posed not by those who commit abominable sins out of lust etc., but by the hypocrisy of those who are afraid of opposing Islam openly. They wear a mask of Islam on their face and try to achieve their nefarious ends under the cover of Islamic way of life, a very heavy cover indeed. They devoid Islam of its content, leaving intact its shape and appearance by changing its courseand its goal and altering its meaning. The simple-minded Muslims must be aware of the fraud of this group.
 Please refer to our footnote of the booklet, Wherefrom to Begin, page 39.
 In one of his footnotes on the booklet, Wherefrom to Begin, page 39.
 In his papers on "Alteration of the Quran" the author says that distortion of meaning indicates the retention of the wording of the Quran, but expounding it wrongly as, according to a well-known story Muawiyah did when he misinterpreted the wording of the prediction regarding the death of Ammar ibn Yasir. Another case of the distortion of meaning is the misinterpretation of the verse: "There is no hukm (decision, judgement) except by Allah." (Surah Yusuf 12: 90) On the basis of this verse the Khawarij raised the slogan: La hukma illaillah (There is no decision except by Allah). Commenting on this slogan Imam Ali said: "Right words, wrong meaning". (See Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 40). This intentional or unintentional misinterpretation was disastrous and caused so much damage in the history of Islam. Another case is the misinterpretation of the tradition: "If you know (Allah), do whatever you like."
Chapter 2:Imamat - Leadership
In his papers entitled the Notes on Leadership and Administration the author has described very well the difference between Prophethood and Imamat. The first is guidance and the second is leadership. As a religious guide or Prophet is a sort of Divinely appointed guide, the same case is with a leader or an Imam. The Holy Prophet and some other Prophets have been both the guides and the leaders. But the end of Divine guidance does not mean the end of Divine leadership also.
The same notes say that Imamat and Prophethood are two different assignments and two different states. They are often separable. Many Prophets only conveyed revelations. They were not the Imams. Similarly the Imams of the Prophet's House have not been the Prophets. Anyhow, Ibrahim and Muhammad were the Prophets and the Imams both (Peace be upon them). The Qur'an says: "I am going to Make you Imam for the people." (Surah al Baqarah 2:124 )
Our contention that Prophethood is guidance and Imamat is leadership has been derived from the Quran, which says: "The Messenger has only to convey the message of Allah." (Surah al Maidah 5:99)
But we know that the duty of an Imam is to supervise, to lead and to take care of those who accept his leadership.
According to the Shi'ah belief, as Prophethood is conferred by Allah, Imamat is also granted by Him. In this respect there is no difference between Prophethood and Imamat. The distinguished Prophets have been guides as well as leaders. The end of Prophethood means the end of Divine guidance in the sense of showing the way and delivering the message, but Divine leadership or Imamat shall never come to an end.
Difference Between Guidance and Leadership
According to one definition the leader is he who makes it easy for his followers to achieve the required goal. The guide on the other hand not only shows the way, but also often provides the means of traversing it and reaching the goal.
As a matter of fact a person may hold simultaneously both the assignments of a guide and a leader, or may hold only one of them. As we have already said, Prophethood is a sort of guidance and Imamat is a sort of leadership. It is possible that one person may be both a guide and a leader. It is also possible that someone may be only a guide and not a leader like all our genuine preachers. (Those whose preaching is not proper are out of question.) They themselves stand aside and show the pitfalls to others. Their responsibility ends there. In contrast, it is also possible that someone may be a leader, not a guide. That happens when the way is known and the goal has already been determined. In this case a leader is required to awaken the dormant forces, to mobilize them and to push them forward. Similarly it is also possible that one person may be a leader and a guide both.
Imamat of the Holy Imams and the Tradition of Thaqalayn
The tradition (Hadith) of Thaqalayn is an authentic tradition reported by numerous authorities both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis. According to it the Holy Prophet is reported to have said: "I leave among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my chosen descendants." 
This tradition has been usually used as a prelude to the narration of the misfortunes of the Holy Prophet's Chosen descendants. The preachers say: "This was the Holy Prophet's direction, but no sooner than he died. . . ." This description gives the impression that the members of the Holy Prophet's House were crushed and made totally ineffective. Though it is true that their services were not utilized as they should have been, yet it must be admitted that their presence was extraordinarily effective in the preservation of Islamic heritage. Of course the then government as well as Islamic politics deviated from their original course and the members of the Prophet's House could render no service in that field, but they so protected and kept alive the spiritual heritage of Islam and the Holy Prophet, that it remained safe even after the gradual decline and extinction of the Islamic caliphate.
Islam is a code of life which covers all affairs temporal and spiritual. It is not like the school of a moral teacher or a philosopher which can deliver to society nothing more than a few books and a few pupils. Islam besides being a moral and cultural school and a social and political system, is a new code of life and a new way of thinking. It practically brings new arrangements into existence. Islam preserves the spirit in the matter, the invisible in the visible, the life Hereafter in this world and finally the kernel in the husk and the husk in the kernel.
The deviation of the government from its original course rendered the institution of caliphate into mere husk. Outward formalities were kept intact, but the spirit of piety, truthfulness, justice, sincerity, love, equality and patronage of science and knowledge did not exist, especially during the Umayyad period when true knowledge was despised and discouraged. The only thing which was encouraged was poetry, pre-Islamic customs and boasting of one's ancestry. The result was that politics was separated from religiousness. In other words those who represented spiritual heritage of Islam were not allowed to take part in political affairs and those who held political power were alien to the spirit of Islam, and carried out only its outward formalities such as congregational prayers and the appointment of the officials to perform Islamic duties. They were caliphs and the commanders of the faithful only in name. At last even this duality disappeared and the outward formalities were also gone. Even the form of government officially became pre-Islamic. Spirituality and religiousness were totally separated from politics. From here it can be understood that the biggest blow which was dealt to Islam began from the day that religion and politics were separated from each other. Though during the days of Abu Bakr and Umar religion and politics still to a certain extent went together, the seeds of their separation were sown during that period. The things so developed that Umar made repeated mistakes and Imam Ali corrected them. Fortunately Imam Ali was his regular adviser. The separation of religion and politics being the greatest threat, the well-wishers of Islam wanted to keep them together. The relation between these two is that of spirit and body. The body and spirit and the husk and kernel should remain united. The husk is required to protect the kernel from which it draws its strength. Islam gives importance to politics, government, political laws and jihad only for the purpose of protecting and preserving its spiritual heritage, that is monotheism, supremacy of spiritual and moral values, social justice, equality and regard for human sentiments. If this husk is separated from its kernel, the latter will be damaged and the former will become of no use.
The bold action which the Imams took was the protection of the spiritual heritage of Islam. They separated from Islam the institution of caliphate as it existed. The first Imam who took this action was Imam Husayn (AS). His uprising made it clear that Islam meant piety, recognition of Allah and self-sacrifice for His cause, not the values introduced by the Umayyad Caliphate.
Now let us see what the spiritual heritage of Islam means and how the Holy Imams have protected it. The Holy Quran says: "The Prophet reads out to them Allah's verses, purifies them and teaches them the Book and wisdom" (Surah Jumu'ah 62:2 )
It also says: "So that the people may establish justice." (Surah al Hadid 57:25 )
Again it says: "We have sent you as a witness, a bringer of good tidings, a warner and one who calls to Allah with His permission." (Surah al-Ahzab 33: 45)
The Imams first of all urged people to do what is good and abstain from that which is evil. The most extreme example of this sort of action is Imam Husayn's uprising. Secondly the Imams paid attention to disseminating knowledge. An example of this action is Imam Ja'far Sadiq's school, which produced such eminent scholars as Hisham, Zurarah and Jabir ibn Hayyan.
The same purpose was served by the Nahjul Balaghah, the Sahifah Sajjadiyah and the disputations of all Imams, especially those of Imam Riza. Above all the Imams showed practical piety, asceticism, selflessness and benevolence. They passed their nights in worshipping Allah and helped the poor and the weak. They possessed the noble Islamic qualities of forgiveness, beneficence and humility. Their very sight reminded the people of the moral and spiritual qualities preached by Islam and the Holy Prophet. Imam Musa Kazim observed vigils in close vicinity to Harun's palace. Imam Riza, when he was still the heir apparent, declared: "Allah of all the people is the same, their father is the same and their mother is the same. None is superior to others except by virtue of piety." He took meals with the barber and the door-keeper and mixed freely with them.
The spiritual philosophy of Islam is the preservation of its moral and spiritual heritage and the retention of its kernel in contradistinction of its husk. The separation of spirituality from politics amounts to the separation of the kernel from its husk.
Imamat and Hadith of Thaqalayn
(i) The substance of this tradition is mutawatir, which means that it has been reported by numerous irreproachable authorities. Its wording may vary, but according to most of the reports it is as under: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: The Book of Allah and my chosen descendants. So long as you adhere to them, you will never go astray. They will not be separated from each other till they come to me at the fountain."
Once in an article published in an issue of the magazine, Risalatul Islam, the organ of the Dar ut-Taqrib Baynal Mazahibul Islamiya this tradition appeared thus: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah." Immediately, at the instance of the late Ayatullah Burujardi, a scholar of Qum, named Shaykh Qiwamuddin Wishnawahi wrote a treatise entitled Hadithuth Thaqalayn and sent it to the Darut-Taqrib which published it as a separate treatise.
In that treatise the sources of this tradition have been traced in the books of traditions, the commentaries of the Quran, biographies, historical books and dictionaries, in which this tradition has been mentioned for different reasons. For example it is mentioned in the commentaries of the Quran in connection with the verse: "We will dispose of you O you Thaqalayan." and in connection with the verses of 'I'tisam' (3:103), 'Mawaddat' (42:23) and 'Tathir' (33:33). In dictionaries it is mentioned in connection with the root-word, thaqal etc.
(ii) In the Holy Quran the word, thaqalayn has been used to signify the men and the jinn. Let us see what it signifies in this tradition.
In connection with the tradition there are a few points worth mentioning. The first point is: Why have the Chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet been called thaqal?
The second point is: Why has the Quran been called the major thaqal and the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet the minor thaqal? Some reports have these words: "One of them (the thaqals) is greater than the other."
The Holy Prophet was asked as to what he meant by the thaqalayn. He said: "The Book of Allah, the one end of which is in Allah's hand and the other end of which is in your hand, and my descendants who are the minor thaqal".
According to a certain report, he added: "They are the two ropes which will not break off till the Day of Resurrection."
(iii) The third important point in this connection is that the Holy Prophet has said that these two will not be separated. He did not mean to say that they will not part company with each other or that they will not be displeased with each other or that they will not quarrel. What is meant is that adherence to one of them is inseparable from adherence to the other. They cannot be separated by saying that the Quran is enough for us as Umar said in the early days of Islam or by saying that what has been reported to us from the Prophet's House is enough for us as the Akhbarists say. Incidentally some of the Shi'ah scholars are of this opinion.
(iv) The fourth point is that the Holy Prophet has guaranteed that those who really adhere to these two thaqa1s would never go astray and would not feel miserable.
The decline and deviation of the Muslims began when they tried to thrust a wedge between these two thaqals.
Now let us discuss why the law-giver has chosen to append something else to the revealed Book brought by him.
This question is related to the profundity and subtlety of the Quran, the law of which requires an interpreter and commentator. To illustrate this point it may be said that sometimes we import from a foreign country such simple goods as cloth, shoes or utensils. In this case we do not need any persons to come along with the goods to direct us how to use them. We can sew garments out of cloth, can use the utensils and put on the shoes. But sometimes we import a complete manufacturing plant. In that case it is necessary that some experts should come along with it to install it and operate it for a fairly long time till our own technicians are ready to operate it independently. Similarly when modern war equipment is imported, it should definitely be accompanied by technicians to teach its use.
We have heard that recently France has sold mirage aircraft to Libya, but it is said that the Libyan pilots will not be in a position to fly them at least for two years.
Hence the question of leadership in the sense of religious authority, to which the Holy Prophet has referred in this authentic tradition, is nothing but a stress on the fact that it is not enough to know Arabic in the ordinary sense to be able to interpret the Qur'an, to understand its aims and to explain its injunctions and moral rules. We know how the literal interpretation of the tradition which says that you will see your Lord on the Day of Resurrection as you see the moon when it is full, led to gross deviation and anthropomorphic conceptions.
To say that the Book of Allah is enough for us culminates in either Ash'arism or Mu'tazilaism, each of which was a heretical school of thought.
Our twelve Imams are the Qur'anic technicians. Their knowledge does not belong to the world of senses. It is Divinely inspired or at least especially acquired knowledge. Imam Ali once addressing Kumayl said: "Knowledge with real insight came to them unexpectedly. They experienced the satisfaction of conviction. They found easy what those living in luxury considered to be difficult, and they were on intimate terms with that, of which the ignorant were afraid." (See Nahjul Balagha, Saying 146).
Imam Ali says: "The chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet keep his trust and abide by his orders. They are a treasure of his knowledge, a sanctuary of his wisdom, an archive of his Books and a support of his religion. With their help he straightened his back and gained his composure. None from among his ummah (followers) can be compared to them. Those who received their favours cannot be equal to them. They are the basis of religion and the pivot of faith. To them return those who go astray and those who lag behind, join them for guidance and salvation. They are efficiently capable and fit for the status of leadership; they have been and are even now rightful heirs of the Holy Prophet who had entrusted them Imamate." (Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 2)
"Through us you were guided in the darkness and were able to set your foot on the highway. With our help you came into the light of the dawn from the darkness of the late night. Deaf be the ear that does not listen to the cry (advice) of the guide." (Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 4) (This sermon was delivered by Imam Ali after Talhah and Zubayr were killed).
"You will not be observing the covenant of the Qur'an unless you know who violated it and you will not be adhering to it unless you know who threw it away. Therefore seek this information of those who have it, for they are the life of knowledge and the death of ignorance. It is they whose judgement will tell you of their knowledge, whose silence will tell you of their speech and whose outward appearance will tell you of their inward feelings. They do not do anything that is against religion nor is their opinion divided about it. Therefore religion is their true witness and a silent speaker." (Nahjul Balagha -Sermon 147)
(The words "that they do not do anything against religion", indicate the infallibility of the Imams and the words, "their opinion is not divided" show that the Imams possess profound knowledge.)
"They are life of knowledge and death of ignorance. Their gentleness speaks of their knowledge and their silence of the wisdom of their speech. They neither oppose the truth (as they are infallible) nor have they divided opinion about it, (as their knowledge is sound and correct). They are pillars of Islam and the place where it is safe. Through them the truth was restored to its position, the falsehood was displaced and its tongue was cut off. They understand religion and take care of it. They do not merely hear it and pass it on. The transmitters of knowledge are many, but its adherents are very few." (See Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 239).
"A time will come after me when nothing will be more hidden than truth and more manifest than falsehood. At that time the Quran and the people of the Quran will be the rejected outcasts. The Qur'an and its guardians (Ahlul Bayt) which are like two companions going together in the same path, will not be accommodated by anyone. At that time they will be among the people, but no one will seek guidance from them, and they will be with the people, but not really with them." (Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 147).
 In this connection a reference may be made to Shaykh Qawam Wishnawahi's treatise appended to Risalatul Islam and to the Biharul Anwar, an account of the Prophet's life.
 Shaykh Qiwamuddin says that this tradition has been reproduced in Sahih Muslim, Vol. VII, p. 122, Sunan Tirmizi, Vol. II, p. 307, Sunan Abu Da'ud, Vol. V, pp. 182, 189; Mustadrak Hakim, Vol. III, pp. 14, 17, 26, 59, Vol. VI, pp. 366, 371, Vol. V, pp. 182, 189; Mustadrak Hakim, Vol. III, p. 109, Tabaqat of Ibn Sa'd, Vol. IV, p. 8; Usudul Ghabah, Vol. II, p.12, Vol. III, p. 147 and Ibn Abil Hadid.
Chapter 3:Significance of Imamat
The subject of our present discussion is Imamat. We know that for us, the Shi'ah though it is a question of extraordinary importance, other Muslim sects do not attach so much importance to it. The reason is that the conception of Imamat which we have is different from that conception of it which other sects have. There is no doubt that there are some common features too, but those features of Imamat, which have given extraordinary importance to it, are peculiar to the Shi'ah creed. For example when we, the Shi'ah want to enumerate the cardinal principles of religion according to the Shi'ah doctrine, we say that these principles are Monotheism, Prophethood, Divine Justice, Imamat and the Hereafter. We regard Imamat as a cardinal principle of religion. In a sense the Sunnis also do not reject the idea of Imamat totally, but according to their belief, Imamat is not a cardinal principle of religion. They regard it only as a collateral matter. In fact there exists a basic difference of opinion with regard to Imamat. We believe in one sort of Imamat and the Sunnis believe in another sort of it. The reason why the Shi'ah regard Imamat as a cardinal principle of religion whereas the Sunnis regard it as a collateral matters, is that the Shi'ah conception of Imamat is quite different from the Sunni conception of it.
The Meaning of Imam
Imam means a leader or one who goes in front. The word Imam in Arabic does not imply any sense of sanctity. And Imam is the person who has some followers irrespective of the fact whether he is virtuous or depraved. The Quran itself has used the word in both the senses. At one place it says: "We appointed them Imams who guide with our permission." (Surah Anbiya, 21:73)
At another place it says: "The Imams who invite people to the Hell." (Surah al Qasas, 28:41)
In respect of Fir'awn the Quran has used a phrase which conveys a sense similar to that of an Imam or a leader. It says: "On the Day of Judgement he will lead his people down into the Hell fire." (Surah Hud, 11:98).
Thus Imam literally means simply a leader. But at present we are not concerned with a bad leader. Let us now discuss the conception of Imamat.
The word Imamat is applied to several cases. Some concepts of it are acknowledged by the Sunnis also. But they differ with us as to who is an Imam and what qualities he must possess. They totally disbelieve in certain concepts of Imamat. It is not that they believe in Imamat in the sense in which we believe but disagree as to the person who holds this assignment. The Imamat in which they believe is nothing but social leadership and this is the sense in which this word has been used in the books of the old scholastic theologians.
Khwaja Nasiruddin Tusi in at-Tajrid defines Imamat as general charge of society. Here it seems necessary to mention another point also:
Various Aspects of the Holy Prophet
The Holy Prophet in his lifetime by virtue of his special position in Islam had several aspects as is indicated by the Qur'an and his own life account. At one and the same time he held several assignments. In the first instance he was a Prophet of Allah and in this capacity he conveyed, Allah's message and commandments to the people. The Holy Quran says:
"Whatever the Messenger gives, take it, and whatever he forbids abstain from it." (Surah al Hashr, 59:7)
In other words, whatever instructions and orders the Prophet gives to the people, he gives them on behalf of Allah.
From this point of view the Prophet communicates only that which has been revealed to him. Another assignment of the Holy Prophet was that he held the post of the supreme judge, by virtue of which he administered justice among the Muslims. According to Islam every Tom, Dick and Harry cannot be a judge, for from the viewpoint of Islam arbitration is a Divine affair. Allah has enjoined justice and a Judge is the person who administers it in cases of disputes and differences. This assignment was also expressly conferred on the Holy Prophet by the Qur'an, which says: "By your Lord, they will not believe in truth until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them and find within themselves no dislike of that which you decide and submit to your decision whole-heartedly." (Surah an Nisa, 4:65 )
The Holy Prophet was appointed a judge by Allah and hence this assignment was not an ordinary one; it was Divine. Practically also he was the Prophet-judge. The third assignment which he officially held and which was conferred on him by the Quran was that of the head of the State. He was the head of the State and leader of Muslim society. In other words in Muslim society he was the policy maker as well as the administrator. It is believed that it is this aspect of the Holy Prophet which is visualized by the Quranic verse: "Believers, obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and your (qualified) leaders." (Surah an Nisa, 4:59).
In fact, the three positions held by the Holy Prophet were not merely formal or ceremonial. The directions which we have received from him are basically of three kinds.
(i) The first kind comprises Divine revelations, in regard to which the Holy Prophet could do nothing of his own accord. His sole function was to convey to the people what was revealed to him.
(ii) In the field of religious instructions, for example, he told the people how to offer prayers and keep fast. But when he administered justice his judgements were not revealed. In the case of a dispute between two persons, he decided the matter according to the Islamic standards and judged who was right and who was wrong. In such a case Jibra'il did not bring any revelation to him. Exceptional cases are a different matter. On the whole he decided all judicial cases on the basis of available evidence in the same way as others do. At the most it may be said that his judgements were better than those of others. He himself said that he had orders to pronounce judgement on the basis of what appears to be specious. Suppose a plaintiff and a respondent appear and the plaintiff produces two irreproachable witnesses. The Prophet would decide the case on the basis of their evidence. Evidently this judgement will be the Prophet's own judgement and not a judgement revealed to him.
(iii) In this third capacity also when the Prophet issued an order as the leader of society, the nature of this order of his was different from the nature of what he conveyed as Divine revelation. Allah appointed the Holy Prophet the leader of society and authorized him to work as such. In this capacity he sometimes consulted others also. We see that he consulted his companions on the occasion of the Battles of Badr and Uhud and on many other occasions. Evidently there can be no consultation about a Divinely revealed order. The Holy Prophet never consulted his companions as to how the dusk time (Magrib) prayers should be offered. There have been occasions when the Holy Prophet said about certain questions referred to him that Allah had commanded thus and hence he had to abide by His command. But on matters in which he had received no Divine injunction, he often consulted others and asked for their opinion. If in such cases he issued his own orders, he did so because he was authorized by Allah to do so. In a few cases connected with social administration also he received revelation, but those were exceptional cases. Otherwise as a rule he did not receive any detailed instructions on social and political questions and he did not work as a mere messenger in respect of these questions. It is an undisputed fact that the Holy Prophet worked in all these capacities concurrently.
Imamat in the Sense of Leadership of Society
The first meaning of Imamat as mentioned above is the general charge of society. One of his assignments which fell vacant on the demise of the Holy Prophet, was the leadership of society. There is no doubt that society needs a leader. Who was the leader of society after the Holy Prophet? Both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree that society is in need of a leader and a supreme commander. It is here that the question of Khilafat arises. The Shi'ah say that the Holy Prophet himself nominated his successor and announced that after him Imam Ali would take the reins of the affairs of the Muslims in his hands. The Sunnis who have a different logic do not accept this view at least in the form in which the Shi'ah accept it. According to them the Holy Prophet did not designate any particular person as his successor and it was the duty of the Muslims themselves to elect their leader. The Sunnis accept the principle of Imamat when they say that the Muslims need a leader. All that they say is that the leader was to be chosen by the Muslims. In contrast, the Shi'ah claim that the Holy Prophet himself appointed his successor by Divine revelation.
Had the question of Imamat been merely that of political leadership after the Holy Prophet, we the Shi'ah also should not have regarded it as a cardinal principle of religion. It would have been fit to include this question in the collateral matters. We could say that the question of Imamat in which the Shi'ah believe is confined to declaring that Imam Ali was one of the companions of the Holy Prophet like Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and so many others or even like Abuzar and Salman, but he was better, more learned, more pious and more capable than all of them and that the Prophet designated him to be his successor. But the Shi'ah do not stop here. They believe in two tenets in which the Sunnis do not share with them at all. One of these two tenets is Imamat in the sense of religious authority.
Imamat in the Sense of Religious Authority
We have said that the Holy Prophet conveyed the Divine revelations received by him to the people who were at liberty to ask him whatever they wanted to know about the teachings of Islam. Similarly they asked of him what they did not find in the Qur'an. Now the question is whether what the Qur'an contains and what the Holy Prophet has told the general people is all that Islam wanted to convey of its instructions; teachings and knowledge? Evidently the Holy Prophet did not have time enough to convey all the teachings of Islam. Therefore, he trained Imam Ali, his successor as an extraordinary scholar and taught him everything about Islam, at least all the principles and the general rules of it. Imam Ali was the most outstanding of his companions. He was infallible like himself, and knew even that which was not expressly told by Allah.
Introducing him, the Holy Prophet said: "0' People, after me refer all religious questions to Ali and ask him and my other successors whatever you want to know." In this respect Imamat is a sort of specialization in Islam, but an extraordinary and Divine specialization, far above the degree of the specialization which a mujtahid (jurist) can acquire. The Imams are experts in Islam but their special knowledge of it is not derived from their own thinking and reason which are liable to commit mistakes. They receive their knowledge in a mysterious and secret way unknown to us. Imam Ali received his knowledge of Islamic sciences direct from the Holy Prophet and the subsequent Imams received it through him. In the case of each Imam this knowledge was infallible and impeccable. It was handed down by each Imam to the subsequent Imams.
The Sunnis do not believe that anybody holds such a position. In other words they do not believe in the existence of any Imam in this sense. It is not that they do not accept Ali as an Imam but say that Abu Bakr is an Imam instead of him. In fact they do not admit that any of the companions of the Holy Prophet, neither Abu Bakr, nor Umar nor Uthman, holds such a position. That is why they attribute so many mistakes in religious matters to Abu Bakr and Umar. In contrast the Shi'ah believe their Imams to be infallible, and will never admit that any of their Imams has ever committed a mistake. But the Sunnis in their books say that on such and such occasion Abu Bakr said so, but he was wrong. When he realized his mistake he said that he had a Satan (Devil) who overwhelmed him from time to time. Similarly the Sunnis say that once Umar made a mistake and then referring to certain women declared that they were more learned than him.
It is said that when Abu Bakr died the women of his family, including his daughter - the Holy Prophet's wife, 'Ayishah began to weep and cry. When Umar heard the din of their lamentation, he sent a message to the women, asking them to be quiet, but they did not comply with his request. He again sent a message and then threatened to punish them. At last 'Ayishah was told by some women that Umar was threatening them and asking them to become quiet. She sent for Umar and when he came to her asked him what he wanted to say and why he was sending a message after message. Umar said that he had heard the Holy Prophet saying: "If any one died and his people wept over him, he would be punished." 'Ayishah said: "You haven't understood. You are mistaken. That's a different matter. I know what's that. Once a wicked Jew died. His folk were weeping over him. The Holy Prophet said that they were weeping and he was being punished. The Holy Prophet did not say that he was being punished because they were weeping. He said that they were weeping over him, but didn't know that he was being punished. What connection has it with this question? Even if weeping be prohibited, why should Allah punish an innocent person for the sin which we commit?" "Strange! said Umar. "Was that the case"? "Yes", said 'Ayishah, "that was the case". Umar said: "Hadn't these women been there, Umar would have been ruined."
The Sunnis themselves say that on seventy (very many) occasions Umar said: "Had there not been Ali, Umar would have been ruined." He himself confessed on so many occasions that Ali often rectified his mistakes, and Umar used to confess his mistakes.
In short, the Sunnis do not believe in any Imam in the sense in which we believe. Anyhow it is an indisputable fact that it was the Holy Prophet alone who received the celestial revelation. We do not say that revelation is received by the Imams also. The message of Islam was delivered to mankind by the Holy Prophet alone and to him alone Allah revealed all the necessary teachings of Islam. There are no injunctions of Islam which were not revealed to him. But the question whether all injunctions of Islam were conveyed to the people at large, is a different matter. The Sunnis say that the Holy Prophet conveyed all Islamic injunctions to his companions. But still the Sunnis find themselves in a fix when they face problems about which nothing has been reported from the companions of the Holy Prophet. To resolve this situation they have introduced the law of analogy, by means of which they claim that they complete what is missing. In this connection Imam Ali says: "Do you mean to say that Allah's religion was incomplete and you have come to complete it?" (See Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 18)
The Shi'ah on the other hand say that neither Allah revealed the Islamic injunctions incompletely to the Holy Prophet, nor did the Holy Prophet convey them incompletely to the people. He conveyed them completely but he did not say everything to the general people. In fact many questions did not arise during his lifetime. Anyhow, he conveyed all injunctions which he received from Allah to his special disciple, Imam Ali and asked him to pass them on to the people as and when necessary.
It is here that the question of infallibility arises. The Shi'ah say that just as the Holy Prophet could be neither intentionally nor unintentionally wrong in what he said, similarly his special pupil Imam Ali also could not go wrong, for just as the Holy Prophet was backed by Divine support in many ways, this special pupil of his also enjoyed Divine support. This was one more feature of Imamat.
Imamat in the Sense of Wilayat
This is the third sense of Imamat and the highest sense for that matter. Great stress is laid on this sense in the Shi'ah doctrine In a way Wilayat is a common point between Shi'ism and mysticism (tasawwuf). But when we say so, we should not be misunderstood, for you may come across what the orientalists have said in this respects. They say that Wilayat is a question in which the mystics are greatly interested and which has been of interest for the Shi'ah also from the early days of Islam. I remember that some ten years back an orientalist interviewed Allama Tabatabi. One of the questions he put was whether the Shi'ah had borrowed the idea of Wilayat from the mystics or the mystics had taken it from the Shi'ah. The fact is that the doctrine of Wilayat existed among the Shi'ah even when mysticism had not emerged yet. If it is supposed that either of these two have borrowed the idea from the other, it must be said that the mystics have adopted it from the Shi'ah. The question of Wilayat is analogous to the questions of the perfect man and the master of the time. The mystics have laid great stress on this point. Moulavi says that in every age there exists a wali, qa'im or the master of the age. In every age there exists a perfect man possessing all human qualities. There is no age in which, a perfect wali, often described as 'qutb' (pole, pivot, authority) is not present. The mystics believe that a perfect wali is also a perfect men. They ascribe to him many positions some of which are unintelligible to us. One of his positions is his control of the hearts in the sense that he is the universal spirit transcending all spirits. Moulavi hints at this position in his story of Ibrahim Adham. This story is no more than a fictitious tale. But Moulavi narrates tales to make his points clear. His aim is not to narrate history. He tells a story only to press his point. Moulavi says that Ibrahim Adham went to the river and threw a needle into it. Afterwards he recalled the needle. The fish put their heads out of the river. Each fish had a needle in its mouth. Continuing, Maulavi says: '0 you having no endowments, take care of your heart in the presence of those who are gifted with the qualities of heart.'
Continuing further he says: "That Shaykh (spiritual guide) became aware of that which was in the heart of the other people. The Shaykh could know that because he was like a lion and the hearts of other people were his dens."
The Shi'ah generally use the word Wilayat in its most exalted sense. They believe that the Wali and Imam is the master of the time, and there has always been and there will always be one perfect man in the world . In most of the ziyarats (homages) which we recite, we acknowledge the existence of Wilayat and Imamat in this sense, and believe that the Imam has a universal spirit. In the ziyarats which we all recite and which we regard as a part of Shi'ah doctrine we say: "I testify that you see where I stand; you hear what I say and return my salutation." It is to be noted that we address that to an Imam who is dead. From our point of view in this respect there is no difference between a dead and a living Imam. It is not that we say so to a dead Imam only. We say: "Peace be on you, Ali ibn Musa al-Riza. I admit and testify that you hear my salutation and return it."
The Sunnis with the exception of the Wahhabis, believe that only the Holy Prophet is endowed with this quality of knowing and hearing. According to them nobody else in the world occupies such a high spiritual status and has such a spiritual comprehension. But we, the Shiites believe that this position is held by all our Imams. This belief is a part of our religious principles and we always acknowledge it.
In short the question of Imamat has three degrees and if we do not make a distinction between these degrees, we may be faced with difficulties in respect to certain inferences in this connection. Based on these degrees Shiism has three groups. Some Shiites believe in Imamat only in the sense of social and political leadership of society. They say that the Holy Prophet designated Imam Ali to the leadership of society after him, and that Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman could not claim this position. These people are Shiites only to this extent. They either do not believe in the two further degrees or keep quiet about them. Some others believe in the second degree also but do not believe in the third one. It is said that the late Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Durchal who was Ayatullah Burujardi's teacher in Isfahan, disbelieved in this third degree. Anyhow, the majority of the Shi'ah and the Shi'ah scholars believe in the third degree also.
If we want to discuss Imamat, we should discuss it in three stages: Imamat according to the Qur'an, Imamat according to the tradition and Imamat according to reason. First of all let us see whether the Quranic verses relating to Imamat indicate that sense of Imamat in which the Shi'ah believe. And if they do so, do they indicate Imamat in the sense of political and social leadership only, or do they indicate it in the sense of religious authority and spiritual Wilayat also. After explaining this we should see what do the Prophetic traditions say about Imamat. Finally we should analyse Imamat from the viewpoint of reason and see what reason says about each stage of it. Is the Sunni point of view that the Holy Prophet's successor should be elected by the people more reasonable or is it a fact that the Holy Prophet himself has nominated his successor? Similarly what is agreeing to reason in regard to the other two sense of Imamat.
A Tradition about Imamat
Before mentioning the verses of the Qur'an in regard to Imamat. We would like to quote a tradition which has been reported by the Shi'ah as well as the Sunnis. Normally a tradition upon which both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree cannot be ignored, because this agreement shows that the tradition is substantially authentic, though its wording may differ in different reports. We the Shiites usually report this tradition in the following words: "He who dies without recognizing the Imam of his time, would die a pre-Islamic death." These are very serious words, for in the pre-Islamic period people neither believed in the unity of Allah (monotheism) nor in Prophethood. This tradition (hadith) is found in most of the Shi'ah books of traditions including the Kafi which is regarded as the most reliable collection of the Shi'ah traditions. The important fact is that this tradition is found in the Sunni books also. According to one report they quote the following wording: "He who dies without an Imam, will die a pre-Islamic death." Another wording is this: "He who dies and has no bayah (oath of allegiance) in his neck, will die a pre-Islamic death." Still another text says: "He who dies and has no Imam, will die a pre-Islamic death." There are several other versions, and that shows the great importance which the Holy Prophet attached to the question of Imamat.
Those who take Imamat only in the sense of social leadership say that the Holy Prophet has attached utmost importance to the question of leadership because the implementation of the Islamic injunctions depends on the presence of a virtuous and sound leader and the strong allegiance of people to him. Islam is not an individualistic religion. Nobody can say that as he believes in Allah and His Prophet, he has nothing to do with anybody else. Everybody must know and understand who the Imam of his time is, and must carry out his activities under his leadership.
Those who take Imamat in the sense of religious authority, say that he who is interested in his religion, must recognize his religious authority and must know whom he should follow in religious matters. It is absolutely un-Islamic to believe in the religion but to acquire it from a source which is contrary to it.
Those who believe in Imamat in the sense of spiritual Wilayat say that this tradition shows that a man who is not under the care of a perfect wali (guardian) is just like him who died in pre-Islamic days. As this tradition is a mutawatir hadith (reported by continuity of numerous authorities) we mentioned it first so that you may keep it in mind while we discuss the question of Imamat further. Now we look at the verses of the Qur'an.
Imamat in the Holy Qur'an
Several verses of the Qur'an are cited by the Shi'ah in connection with Imamat. One of them is the verse which begins with the words, "Your guardian can be only Allah". Incidentally in all these cases there exist Sunni traditions which support the Shi'ah point of view. In the Qur'an this verse runs as follows: "Your guardian can be only Allah and His messenger and those who believe, who establish prayers, pay the zakat while bowing." (Surah Mai'dah, 5:55).
The word used in this verse is Wali, which means a guardian. Hence Wilayat means guardianship. According to the teachings of Islam zakat is not paid while bowing in prayers. Hence the payment of zakat while bowing cannot be called a general rule applicable to many individuals. This verse refers to a particular incident, which took place only once and which has been reported both by the Shi'ah and the Sunnis. Once Imam Ali was bowing while offering prayers when a beggar appeared and began to ask for alms. Imam Ali beckoned and called his attention to his finger. The beggar promptly drew Imam Ali's ring from his finger and left the place. In other words Imam Ali did not wait till his prayers were finished. He was so particular to give alms, that while he was still praying he told the beggar by gesture that he might pull out his ring, sell it and spend the money to meet his needs. Both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree that Imam Ali did so, and that this verse was revealed on this occasion. It may be noted that giving alms while bowing in prayers is not included in the teachings of Islam. It is neither an obligatory nor a commendable act. Hence it cannot be said that several persons might have done so. Therefore (those who do so) is an obvious reference to Imam Ali. The Qur'an at several places has used the expression, 'they say. . .', while that thing was said by only one individual. Here also 'those who do so' means the individual who did so. Therefore by means of this verse Imam Ali was appointed the guardian of the people. Anyway, this verse needs further discussion, which we are going to undertake later.
There are other verses which concern the event of Ghadir. This event itself is a part of the Islamic traditions, but we are going to discuss it later. One of the verses revealed in connection with the event of Ghadir says: "0 Messenger! Make known that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, for if you do it not, you will not have conveyed His message." (Surah al-Mai'dah, 5:67).
The tone of this verse is as serious as that of the tradition: "He who died and did not recognize the Imam of his time, died a pre-Islamic death." Briefly it may be said that the verse itself shows that its subject is so important that if the Prophet does not make it known, that would mean that he has not conveyed the message of Allah at all.
The Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree that Surah al-Mai'dah is the last surah (chapter) revealed to the Holy Prophet, and this verse is one of the last verses of this surah. In other words it was revealed when the Holy Prophet had already conveyed all other injunctions and teachings of Islam during his 13 years' stay in Makkah and 10 years' stay in Medina as the Prophet. This verse was among the last instructions of Islam. Now the Shi'ah ask what that instruction could be which was so important that if it was not conveyed all that the Holy Prophet did in the past would become void. You cannot indicate any subject connected with the last years of the Holy Prophet's life which may be so important. But we say that it is the question of Imamat, which is so important that if Imamat is lost, nothing remains. Without Imamat the whole structure of Islam would crumble down. Moreover, the Shi'ah cite the reports and the traditions of the Sunnis themselves in support of their claim that this verse was revealed in connection with the Ghadir Khum event.
In Surah al-Ma'idah itself there is another verse which runs as follows: "This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour to you and have chosen Islam for you as religion." (Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:3).
This verse shows that on that day something happened, which was so important that it perfected religion, completed Allah's Favour to mankind and without which Islam could not be as Allah wanted it to be. The Shi'ah argue that the stringent tone of the verse shows that the thing to which it refers is so important that the very existence of Islam as a true religion depends on it. Now the question is what that thing can be. The Shi'ah say that they can point out that thing; whereas others cannot. Furthermore, there are reports which confirm that this verse was revealed in connection with the question of Imamat. We have put forward these three verses as the gist of the Shi'ah arguments.
Chapter 4: Imamat and Expounding of Religion
We have already discussed the different aspects of Imamat, in the course of which we pointed out that in order to be able to discuss the question of Imamat in its true perspective, it was necessary to understand those aspects very clearly. One aspect of Imamat, as we have already said, is the question of government. Following the demise of the Holy Prophet whose duty was it to choose his successor? Was it the responsibility of the people themselves to elect their ruler from among themselves or did the Holy Prophet himself designate his successor? Lately this question has been put in such a way that at first sight the Sunni point of view in this respect appears to be more normal and natural.
Usually the question is set forth in this way: We want to see what form of government has been suggested by Islam. Is it hereditary in which every ruler designates his successor, and the people have no right to intervene in the government affairs? Is it that the Holy Prophet designated a particular person as his successor, that person designated his successor and that successor again designated his successor, and thus the constitution of government was to be based on designation and nomination till the Day of Resurrection? Naturally this process cannot be applicable exclusively to the Imams, for according to Shi'ah belief the number of the Imams is confined to twelve, and this number can neither be increased nor decreased. According to this view the general rule in respect of the government will boil down to this procedure. The Holy Prophet, who was the head of the State also, was to appoint his successor and that successor also in his turn was to appoint his successor and so on till the Day of Resurrection. In this case if Islam dominated the whole world as it once dominated the half of it and it so happened that the injunctions of Islam were observed in all parts of the world, the same rule would be operative whether there be one government in the world or several governments. According to this view, it was on the basis of the general rule that the Head of the State should be a designated person, that the Holy Prophet nominated Imam Ali as his successor. But in the light of this philosophy it is not necessary at all that the Holy Prophet should have designated Imam Ali on receiving a commandment from Allah, for only he and the Imams, inspired and endowed with Divine knowledge through the Holy Prophet, could receive such a Divine commandment, but that could not be the case subsequently. Therefore if it is admitted that from the viewpoint of Islam the government is to be based on the principle of designation, it was not necessary for the Holy Prophet to nominate Imam Ali by revelation. He could appoint him at his personal discretion. The Imams also could use their discretion similarly. On this basis Imam Ali's designation to Khilafat was similar to the appointment of a Governor of Makkah or the appointment of an Amirul Hajj. In such cases nobody says that the Holy Prophet on receiving revelation appointed such and such person the Governor of Makkah or, for example, sent Mu'az bin Jabal to Yemen for the propagation of Islam. In contrast everybody admits that the Holy Prophet was entrusted by Allah with the charge of the administration of people, and so he was authorized to act according to his own discretion in all matters in which he did not receive a revelation. In the case of Imam Ali's designation to Khilafat also it may be said that this was the Holy Prophet's personal decision.
If we advance the question of Imamat in such a simple way, it becomes a question of worldly government and ceases to be the question of Imamat that we are discussing. If this be the nature of the question, really there is no need that Divine revelation should intervene in it. At the most Divine revelation can tell the Prophet that it is his duty to appoint as his successor whomsoever he deems fit, and that his successor also has to choose his successor in the same way. And so on till the Day of Resurrection. If Imamat simply means government or rulership, then what the Sunnis say appears to be more attractive than what the Shi'ah say, for the Sunnis hold that a ruler has no right to choose the next ruler and that his successor should be chosen in a democratic way by the people, especially by those who have right to choose. But the question is not so simple. On the whole the belief of the Shi'ah in the designation of Imam Ali and other Imams to Khilafat is an offshoot of another question which is more basic.
Here an important question arises. The question is that the number of the Imams was not more than twelve. As such who was supposed to take charge of government after these twelve Imams. Let us suppose that Imam Ali had become the ruler exactly in the manner he was designated by the Holy Prophet and had been followed by Imam Hasan, then by Imam Husayn and so on till the twelfth Imam. In this case on the basis of the philosophy which we, the Shi'ites have, there would have been no reason for the occultation of the present Imam. He also like his forefathers would have had a short span of life and then would have passed away. What would have happened after him. Could the number of the Imams be increased? Take another question - the question of the normal government in the present circumstances. Obviously the Imam of the Age cannot assume the political leadership of the Muslims during his occultation. Hence the question of political leadership and worldly government still remains unsolved.
Government is a Branch of Imamat
When the question of Imamat is discussed from the Shi'ah point of view, we should not make a mistake of simplifying it and saying that Imamat means administration of government, for it is such over-simplification that creates the above-mentioned difficulties. if it is admitted that Imamat means rulership, the question arises whether it is necessary that a candidate for becoming the Head of the State should be the best of all. Is it not enough that he should be the best only relatively. In other words, is it not enough that he should be a good statesman, a good administrator and an honest man, though he may be inferior to some people in some other respects? Is it necessary that a ruler should be infallible? What is the need of his being so? Is it necessary that he should be offering night prayers? If so, why? Is it necessary that he should be well-versed in the rules of Islamic law? Cannot he consult others whenever necessary? A man who is relatively the best should be good enough. All these questions arise when we consider the problem from a narrow angle. It is a big mistake to think that Imamat and rulership are identical. Some early scholars, especially some scholastic theologians, made this mistake. Now-a-days again this mistake has become too common. When one speaks of Imamat, at once rulership comes to mind, while in fact the question of rulership is a minor part of the question of Imamat, and these two questions must not be confused. Then what is Imamat?
Imam is the Successor of the Holy Prophet in Expounding of Religion
What is most important in connection with the question of Imamat is the question as to who succeeded the Holy Prophet for the purpose of explaining and expounding religion. There is no doubt that it was the Holy Prophet alone who received revelation which was totally discontinued with his passing away. Now the question is who after the Holy Prophet was responsible for expounding celestial teachings which admitted no personal opinion or private judgement.
Did this responsibility devolve on any one particular individual to whom all queries could be referred as they were referred to the Holy Prophet, whose answers were always perfectly right and about whom it could not be suspected that he would even give an answer based on his personal opinion or would ever make a mistake and rectify it later? About the Holy Prophet we cannot say that any of his answers was ever wrong or influenced by his personal whim. Such an allegation would mean not to acknowledge his Prophethood. Once it is established that a particular thing was said by the Holy Prophet, we cannot say that it is wrong or that the Holy Prophet might have made a mistake. In contrast, in the case of a legislator to whose edicts people adhere, it is possible to say that in respect of such and such question he made a mistake or that he did not pay full attention to that particular question or that he was influenced by extraneous considerations. But it is not possible to say so in respect of the Holy Prophet, just as we cannot say about any verse of the Quran that there is a mistake in it or that it has been affected in any way by some selfish motive.
Was there any person after the Holy Prophet who could really be regarded as a competent authority for all religious matters and who could expound religious law in the same way as the Holy Prophet used to do? Did there exist a perfect man with all these characteristics. We say that such a man did actually exist. The only difference between him and the Holy Prophet was that what the Holy Prophet said was based on direct revelation from Allah and what the Imams said was based on what they learned from the Holy Prophet, not in the sense that they were instructed by him in the usual manner, but in the sense in which Imam Ali said that the Holy Prophet had opened to him a door of knowledge because of which a thousand other doors had been opened to him. We cannot say how it happened just as we cannot explain revelation and say how the Holy Prophet used to receive Divine knowledge direct from Allah.
We cannot say what kind of spiritual relationship existed between the Holy Prophet and Imam Ali, but it is certain that the Holy Prophet taught Imam Ali all realities fully and completely and that he did not impart that knowledge to anyone else. Imam Ali says that he was with the Holy Prophet in the cave of Hira when he heard a piteous sound as if someone was wailing. He said to the Holy Prophet: "Messenger of Allah, I heard the Satan's wailing when revelation was descending on you." He said: "Ali, you hear what I hear and you see what I see, but you are not a Prophet". (See Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 192)
Had there been somebody else in that place with Imam All, he would not have heard that voice, because that hearing was not the catching of sound waves reverberating in the space so that anybody having ears could hear it. It was a different sort of perception.
The Tradition of Thaqalayn
In regard to Imamat the basic question is its spiritual aspect. The Imams are spiritual leaders below the Prophet in ,rank. They know and acknowledge Islam spiritually. They are infallible like the Prophet himself. An Imam is an absolute authority on religion. There is no question of any mistake or any intentional deviation in what he says. That is what we mean by infallibility. In this connection the Shi'ah declare that the Holy Prophet has said: "I leave among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my descendants." (Sahih Muslim, Vol. VII, p. 122)
In fact, it cannot be denied that the Holy Prophet has actually said so. This is not a tradition reported by the Shi'ah only. In fact it has been reported by more Sunni sources than the Shi'ah.
When we were staying at Qum a magazine named Risalatut Taqrib was started by Darut Taqrib of Egypt. In one of its issues a Sunni scholar quoted the tradition of Thaqalayn in these words: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah." The late Ayatullah Burujardi, who was a scholar and divine in the real sense, dealt with such questions very prudently. One of his pupils was Shaykh Qawam Wishnawah'i, a nice man, much interested in studying books and collecting references.
The Late Ayatullah asked him to trace the sources of this tradition in the Sunni books in which this tradition might be found. Accordingly he collected such references and cited more than 200 reliable Sunni books, which had reported that the Holy Prophet had said: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my descendants." It is certain that the Holy Prophet expressed this point in this form on numerous occasions and at several places. But we cannot rule out the possibility of his having said on some occasion that he was leaving two things: the Book of Allah and his Sunnah. There is no inconsistency between the Holy Prophet's descendants and his Sunnah, for his Sunnah is explained by his descendants only. It is not that we can refer our problems either to the Holy Prophet's descendants or to his Sunnah, for these two do not exist independently of each other. It is the Holy Prophet's descendants who are the expounders and custodians of his Sunnah. When the Holy Prophet mentions his descendants along with the Book of Allah, he means to say that his Sunnah is to be acquired from his descendants. Furthermore, even the statement that the Holy Prophet has said: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my descendants", itself is a Sunnah. As such there is no inconsistency between the Holy Prophet's Sunnah and his descendants. If at one place and even that is not certain, the Holy Prophet has said: "I am leaving among you two heavy trusts: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah", at so many other places he has used the other expression. If in one book this tradition is written in one form, in two hundred other books it is written in the other form.
Anyway, Shaykh Qawam prepared a treatise and sent it to Darut Taqrib of Egypt. Darut Taqrib too was not unfair. It printed and published it. Being authentic it could not be turned down. Nobody could raise any objection against it. Had the late Ayatullah Burujardi done what others usually do in such cases, he would have raised great hue and cry, would have called the people of Darut Taqrib dishonest and would have accused them of intriguing against the Prophet's chosen descendants.
The expounding of religion is the true spirit of Imamat. Islam is a comprehensive and bright religion. But the question is whether the teachings of Islam are limited to the principles and the general rules mentioned in the Qur'an and further elaborated and explained in the Holy Prophet's sayings. Was Islam only this much? There is no doubt that Divine revelation ceased with the Holy Prophet's demise. Islam was completed. But had every article of Islam been enunciated by that time? Or were there many questions of law which were in the custody of Imam Ali and which were still to be made known to the people and explained either gradually or on some suitable occasions? In the latter case this tradition proves the infallibility of the Imams, for the Holy Prophet has directed the Muslims to get their religion from two sources, the Book of Allah and his descendants. As one of these sources, that is the Qur'an is infallible and free from all errors, the other source must also be infallible. It is impossible that the Holy Prophet would ask his followers to acquire religion from a person who is liable to commit mistakes.
It is here that the Shi'ah doctrine basically differs from that of the Sunnis in respect of gathering and expounding religion. The Sunnis say that just as revelation ceased with the passing away of the Holy Prophet, similarly the authentic expounding of religion also has come to an end. Now there is nothing except what is deduced and inferred from the Qur'an and the Prophetic traditions.