In the preceding pages, we have addressed the issue of ijmā'. We have seen that, on the one hand, the Islāmic concept of consensus is interpreted as an intellectual acceptance of divine truth and, on the other hand, as an expression of trust in God and the Prophet. We have also noted that, to a certain degree, the Islāmic concept of consensus requires the acceptance of educated opinions acquired through a thorough study of Islāmic law and through the intellectual effort known as ijtihād.
It is thus the obligation of every observant Muslim to place his trust in the wisdom of others.1 The entire structure of Islāmic society is based on this trust in the rulings of scholars since, for all intents and purposes, the acceptance of these religious rulings constitutes an acceptance without reservation of revealed law.
The concept of ijmā' as a source of law and doctrine implies, in an objective sense, the acceptance of a body of divinely revealed laws which must be accepted in their entirety as a manifestation of the acceptance of the sovereign authority of God. In a subjective sense, embracing divine authority represents the sanctifying flux [barakah] instilled by God in the human soul through the bounty bestowed upon the Prophet.
Such submission is never blind and unconditional. Blind following is unacceptable when the motives that are expounded are not sufficiently convincing or do not coincide with the inner meanings of the revelation.2 If, as we have said, some Islāmic tenets, mandates or principles must be accepted completely, totally and wholeheartedly, it is because they are directly ordained by the revelation, which is free of errors,3 and because they are based on the authority of the Prophet and the Imāms. In Islām, in order for a norm or dictate to be accepted, it must be firmly based on God's revelation and the sunnah of his Prophet.4
In such cases, transcendental and ineffable reality becomes evident as soon as reason elevates itself beyond the sphere of sensible truth and attains the level of intelligent truth. It is for this reason that it is the obligation of every Muslim to refrain from submission to a dictate until he is convinced with certainty that what he is accepting is legitimate and in complete accord with revealed truth.5This is the teaching of Shī'ism as taught during the time of the Prophet and further developed on the authority of the Imāms as part of their prophetic supplement.
Regardless of their efforts and actions, ordinary human beings do not deserve the rank of absolute authority over others. Even the greatest of human efforts cannot be compared to the divine gift of prophecy and the grace of wilāyah. The authority of the Prophet was the result of revelation.
The Prophet passed his supreme status and the mandate of his mission, the spread of revealed truth, to his cousin and son-in-law Imām 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib. This divine authority was passed on to his descendants and successors who are the definitive authorities of Islām whose obligation was to amplify it and actualize it.
The human efforts of the Imāms would be of little or no benefit were it not for the fact that their external words and actions were accompanied by the rays of light which flow within them, the Muhammadan truth [al-haqīqah al-muhammadiyyah], the gnostic or esoteric reality, the divine presence in their hearts which are the true depositories of eternal wisdom. It is for this reason that they receive the titles of “legatees” and “executors” of the revelation. As can be appreciated in light of the above, ijmā' is an intellectual assent of divinely revealed truth, assent which does not exclude trust.
Whenever infallible divine authority is absent, human life loses its direction and ceases to be oriented towards God as a final destination. Although God calls all human beings to obedience and the straight path, not all are reached. And not all of those who are reached by His call respond to it, because not all are chosen, obey and submit to His authority.6 The Prophet and the Imāms are the most obedient and submissive to God's authority.
This is because they are the Chosen Ones, the purest souls on earth. They are epiphanies [mazhar, lit. “appearance” or “manifestation”], theophanies [tajalliyāt, lit. “illuminations” or “revelations”], and signs [āyāt] of the infallible divine authority. Such authority cannot be claimed by just anyone. Rather, it must be considered as a gift or grace from God. When 'Alī, the depository and inheritor of the infallible divine authority and the Vicar of God, was preparing himself to enter the scene of Islāmic life, not even the opposition and collusion of the followers of Abū Bakr could impede this apparition which was announced by the Prophet prior to his death and awaited by his family and closest companions. 'Alī struggled tirelessly against them and became their most dreaded enemy.7 He always upheld his right to the succession and debunked all of the arguments used against his legitimate aspirations. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
From the opposition and collusion of the followers of Abū Bakr, to the resistance and reaction of 'Alī and his followers, the historical development of the Caliphate revolved around the issue of the succession of the Prophet. They involved one another and illuminated one another. In light of authentic and trustworthy sources, the situation becomes clear and enables us to see that the historical emergence of Shī'ism was based on metaphysical and cosmological principles, even though the chain of secular conflicts have externally emphasized the political side. This leads us to the fundamental issue which interests us most: the concept that Shī'ite Islām was a divinely ordained development destined to convert itself into an invisible axis and visible hinge of the entire prophetic wilāyah. In order to understand this, it is necessary to examine its exoteric reality on the inside, starting with its esoteric and Gnostic interior.