What was the secret of appointing the Imams (peace be upon them) to the position of Imamah and wilayah? Is human intellect able to understand this?
This question is not exclusive to the appointment of the Imams (peace be upon them), but can be brought up regarding the selection of all the prophets and even angels such as Jibra’il, the Trustee of revelation, and regarding the superiority of some prophets over others and some nations and individuals over others, and in the same way about the superiority of humanity over many other types of creation.
The reality is that selection is among the acts of Allah, as numerous verses indicate:
إِنَّ اللهَ اصْطَفَى آدَمَ وَنُوحًا وَآلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَآلَ عِمْرَانَ عَلَى الْعَالَمِين.
“Verily Allah chose Adam, Nuh, the family of Ibrahim, and the family of ‘Imran over all people.” (Surah Ali-Imran, 3:33).
قُلِ الحَمْدُ للهِ ِوَسَلاَمٌ عَلَى عِبَادِهِ الَّذِينَ اصْطَفَى.
“Say: Praise be to Allah and peace be with those of His servants whom He has chosen.” (Surah an-Naml, 27:59).
يَا مَرْيمَ ُإِنَّ اللهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَى نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ.
“O’ Maryam! Verily Allah has chosen you, purified you, and chosen you over all the ladies of the world.” (Surah Ali-Imran, 3:4 ).
إِنَّ اللهَ اصْطَفَاهُ عَلَيْكُمْ.
“Surely Allah has chosen him over you.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:247).
إِنيِّ اصْطَفَيْتُكَ عَلَى النَّاسِ بِرِسَالاَتيِ.
“(O’ Musa) verily I have chosen you over mankind with my communications.” (Surah al-A’raf, 7:144).
ثُمَّ أَوْرَثْنَا الْكِتَابَ الَّذِينَ اصْطَفَيْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا
“Then We gave the book in inheritance to those of Our servants whom We had chosen.” (Surah al-Fatir, 35:32).
Even Mansur, the ‘Abbasid caliph, would say that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) was among those denoted by the verse:
اَلَّذِينَ اصْطَفَيْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا
“those of Our servants whom We have chosen.” (Surah al-Fatir, 35:32).
وَلَقَدِ اصْطَفَيْنَاهُ فيِ الدُّنْيَا.
“And verily We chose him in this world.” (Surah al-Baqara, 2:130).
اَللهُ يَصْطَفِي مِنَ المَلاَئِكَةِ رُسُلاً وَمِنَ النَّاسِ.
“Allah chooses messengers from among the angels and mankind.” (Surah al-Hajj, 22:75)
وَإِنَّهُمْ عِنْدَنَا لَمِنَ الْمُصْطَفَيْنَ الْأَخْيَارِ
“And verily with Us they are from among the chosen and righteous ones.” (Surah Sad, 38:47).
وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا
“And from among those whom We guided and chose.” (Surah Maryam, 19:58).
“And We chose them and guided them.” (Surah al-An’am, 6:8).
وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَجْتَبِي مِنْ رُسُلِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ
“But Allah chooses whom He wishes among His messengers” (and conveys to them those hidden realities which are necessary for their leadership position). (Surah Ali-Imran, 3:179).
اللَّهُ يَجْتَبِي إِلَيْهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ
“Allah chooses whomsoever He wishes.” (Surah ash-Shura, 42:13).
وَكَذلِكَ يَجْتَبِيكَ رَبُّكَ.
“And thus does thy Lord choose thee.” (Surah Yusuf, 12:6).
… and many more verses, all of which indicate that selection is one of the acts of Allah in His wisdom, or rather is one of the Divine manners of conduct.
There is a treatise by Zaid al-Shahid, the son of Imam Zain al-’Abidin (peace be upon him), called al-Safwah in which he has studied the issue of the selection of the Ahl al-Bayt.
The issue of granting rank exists in the natural world as well, and its necessity is entirely understandable by reason. Just as all species cannot belong to the human species, and all organs cannot be the eyes or head or brain, and all fruits and plants cannot be berries and squash, and the entire tree cannot be the branch, leaves, or roots, in the same way, all individuals cannot be perfect in their manners, qualities, and features. That is, all cannot be Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family), ‘Ali (peace be upon him), Ibrahim al-Khalil (peace be upon him), or Musa al-Kadhim (peace be upon him).
The issue of being an Imam or a follower (ma’mum) as well is such that it is either through Allah’s decree and natural causes or through direct specification and selection by Allah. In any case, all of these are signs that are laden with secrets and wisdom which only Allah Himself knows.
In these affairs none has the right to say, “Why was I not made into someone or something else?” or, for example, “How come all the angels were not made Jibra’il al-Amin (the Trustworthy) and all people were not made Muhammad al-Mustafa (the Chosen)?” or “Why weren’t all of the world’s mountains and rocks made of gold?” If such a thing were to happen, the perfection of the world would become subject to defect and the order and coordination existing among its various parts would cease to exist.
This is though the Noble Qur’an itself speaks thus about the order and minute coordination existing among the parts of the universe:
وَالشَّمْسُ تَجْرِي لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ لَهَا ذَٰلِكَ تَقْدِيرُ الْعَزِيزِ الْعَلِيمِ
And the sun runs on to a term appointed for it; that is the ordinance of the Mighty, the Knowing. (Surah Yasin, 36:38).
وَالْقَمَرَ قَدَّرْنَاهُ مَنَازِلَ حَتَّىٰ عَادَ كَالْعُرْجُونِ الْقَدِيمِ
And We have appointed phases for the moon until it becomes like an old, yellow, date branch. (Surah Yasin, 36:39).
لَا الشَّمْسُ يَنْبَغِي لَهَا أَنْ تُدْرِكَ الْقَمَرَ وَلَا اللَّيْلُ سَابِقُ النَّهَارِ وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
Neither is it appropriate for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night overtake the day; and all float in their orbit.” (Surah Yasin, 36:40).
“Everything in the world is in its place—
If you look well, nothing is more or less
All Divine decrees are just and wise—
Our intellects can’t fathom the secrets of creation”
While the human world is a world of choice and selection, the secrets of these matters – i.e. Divine decrees and selection are so complex that it can be said that even if humanity were to conduct research and studies for millions of years to come, they would still be faced with many unknown secrets.
In summary, the world of creation is a world of causes and effects, and at the same time the human world is a world of choice and duty.
The wise Divine decrees and ordinances govern all affairs. Understanding the reasons for selection of an Imam or prophet and its creational and discretionary aspects, and other such issues, requires an intimate knowledge of all the secrets of Divine actions and the universe. Only those who have come under Allah’s special guardianship understand the fine points of these matters, and all of the prophets and Imams (peace be upon them) were as such.
All human individuals have been encouraged by various means to strive to gain mastery over the sun and moon, and so forth, and since Allah has made them subservient to humanity, they can try to comprehend the secrets of things and make use of their benefits; but if they are unable to understand something’s cause or causes, they must regard it as a Divine decree and make use of its existential blessings.
Thus, it is our duty to make use of the teachings and guidance of the prophets and Imams (peace be upon them) and regard the blessing of their existence and guidance among the greatest of Divine blessings and make them our role-models. And if we are unable to comprehend the philosophy of the selection of these true Divine proofs with our imperfect intellects, we must not turn to rejecting or opposing them. Otherwise, we will be regarded as among those people who in the era of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) himself denied – either out of ignorance or with ulterior motives – that the selection of the progeny was Divine. The Noble Qur’an, in the course of a verse, mentions them as follows:
أَمْ يَحْسَدُونَ النَّاسَ عَلَى مَا آتَاهُمُ اللهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ فَقَدْ آتَيْنَا آلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَآتَيْنَاهُمْ مُلْكًا عَظِيمًا.
“Or are they envious of the people (the Prophet and his progeny) on account of what Allah has granted them out of His abundance? Verily, we granted the family of Ibrahim the Book and wisdom and granted them a great kingdom.” (Surah an-Nisa’, 4:54).
According to the Qur’anic commentaries, this verse was revealed about them. It is incumbent upon us to understand, through reflection and contemplation of the circumstances of the universe, that everything is found in its particular place and the Divine knowledge and wisdom is evident in all of the great and small creations of the Lord of the Universe. Therefore, precisely as we read in one of the verses of the Noble Qur’an,
اَللهُ أَعْلَمُ حَيْثُ يَجْعَلُ رِسَالَتَهُ.
“Allah best knows where to place His messengership.” (Surah al-An’am, 6:124).
Thus, selection of the prophets and Divine legatees is among the affairs that, like all the other actions of the Lord of the Universe, are possessed of their own particular wisdom, though humanity with its imperfect knowledge and intellect may be unable to fathom its secrets and complexities.
Shed some light on the knowledge of the unseen of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and the pure Imams (peace be upon them). And in this regard, considering the principle that Allah has no partner in His knowledge and other attributes of perfection and beauty, explain the difference between Allah’s and the Imam’s knowledge and between the Imam’s and the Prophet’s knowledge.
Anyone who studies the books of history, traditions, and biographies will not doubt the fact that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and the pure Imams (peace be upon them) made known many unseen matters, most of which took place in the world within a short period.
These reports, especially what has come down from the person of the noble Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him), are great in number, and each one of them is considered a part of the major miracles of this house.
In fact, as affirmed by individuals like Ibn Khaldun, in many instances Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) would give news about unseen matters. Of course, the difference between Allah’s knowledge of the unseen and that of these personages is that Allah’s knowledge is by essence, while the knowledge of the Prophet or Imam is outside of their essence, that is, it has been granted them by Allah.
Allah is unique, peerless, and independent of others in all His attributes of perfection, but the Prophet and Imam are in need of Allah with respect to their knowledge and all other attributes of perfection which they possess; and in a word, everything they have, whether from the aspect of existence or attributes, is from Allah. They are existent through Him and knowledgeable and possessed of power through Him.
However, the difference between the Prophet and Imam with regard to awareness of unseen matters is from the aspect that in the Prophet’s knowledge, no human being is an intermediary between him and the unseen world, while the Imams (peace be upon him) have acquired a portion of this knowledge through the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family).
In any case, what is certain is the knowledge of those personages and their giving news about unseen matters, which is as clear and sure as the sun shining in the center of the sky.
In this regard, if one wants to find out in more depth about the reports of the unseen, he should refer to books of the lives and history of the Imams (peace be upon them).
According to the level of my own understanding, I have offered explanations, though concise, in the books The Radiance of Wilayat, Commentary on Dua’ al-Nudbah, and Creational and Legal Wilayat.
Why were the conduct, manner, and methods of the Imams (peace be upon them) not the same in regard to performance of their duty?
Contrary to what is said, the conduct of the Imams (peace be upon them) in confronting various events that were similar to an extent was not very divergent, since all of their conduct was within the scope of the principles and agenda of Shi’aism, which are the original principles of Islam itself. All of their actions and programs demonstrated the truth of Islam and its redemptive teachings. And if we see that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon them) each acted in one way in one important phase of their noble lives and in another way in another phase, this is in entirety a result of the commandments of Islam and the Qur’an.
This is because Islam has both the command;
إِلاَّ أَنْ تَتَّقُوا مِنْهُمْ تُقَاةً.
“… except that you protect themselves from them (and practice dissimulation for the sake of more important goals)” (Surah Ali-Imran, 3:28).
and the command
إِلَّا مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالْإِيمَانِ
“… except one who is compelled while his heart is tranquil with faith.” (Surah al-Nahl, 16:106).
And it also has the command
جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ
“Struggle against the disbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh towards them.” (Surah al-Tahrim, 66:9).
as well as
خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الجْاَهِلِينَ.
“Act with compassion and accept their excuse, and command towards goodness, and turn away from the ignorant (and fight them not).” (Surah al-A’raf, 7:199).
وَلاَ تَسْتَوِي الحَسَنَةُ وَلاَ السَّيِّئَةُ إِدْفَعْ بِالَّتيِ هِيَ أَحْسَنُ.
“Nor are good and evil alike; repel evil with what is most good.” (Surah al-Fussilat, 41:34).
Likewise, the Qur’an says
فَمَنِ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ.
“So whoever transgresses with respect to you, transgress with respect to him in a like manner.” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:194).
And it also says with regard to executing the punishment for adulterers:
وَلاَ تَأْخُذْكُمْ بهِمَا رَأْفَةٌ فيِ دِينِ اللهِ.
“And let not compassion for them overtake you in executing Allah’s command.” (Surah al-Nur, 24:2).
Overall, the conditions and situation of the Imam’s (peace be upon them) era demanded the very same form of conduct for the protection of the Islamic principles and the essence of Shi’aism that they in practice adopted, and of course the Shi’a must follow the path of true Islam, which the Imam recognizes better than all else and doesn’t deviate from even an inch.
Just as the range of the Imam’s leadership includes guidance of the people, elucidation of religious rulings, exegesis of the Qur’an, and answering objections, it also includes political issues, protecting the order of society, implementing Islamic rules, establishing justice, ensuring security, and protecting the borders of Islam.
Please explain the relationship of these two parts with the principle of Imamah and explain to what extent Shi’a have accepted this issue.
As has been indicated, their range of leadership includes both parts, and in reality these two parts are inseparable. However, the issue that was the focus of attention and covetousness of usurping politicians and oppressors was political leadership and taking control of the leadership of society.
Thus, their opposition to the Imams (peace be upon them) was focused on this aspect, and if they opposed them from the aspect of guidance in religious affairs – that is, if they entered the field by making institutions of learning, libraries, and schools – this was so that the people would feel less of a need for the guidance of the Imams (peace be upon them), and as a result, distance themselves from them, in order that they do not come under the effect of the spiritual and religious training of the Imams (peace be upon them).
Again, it was for this very reason that they feared the Imams’ becoming well-known in intellectual and social circles, since they used to observe that the becoming known of their intellectual ability and enlightening guidance occasioned the progress and mastery of Shi’a thought and the people’s increased inclination towards the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them).
The fact that in books of kalam, Imamah has been defined, in the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), as “authority over all religious and worldly affairs of humanity” shows that in this definition their attention was primarily to the Imam’s authority over social affairs and his vicegerency of the Prophet in governing. This is because the dimension of the leadership and authority of the Imams in religious and spiritual matters and the intellectual eminence of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them) were undeniable. Since enlightenment and guidance of people in religious and spiritual affairs was not linked to political issues, it was not opposed by the power-seekers.
And even if they desired to oppose them in this aspect, the people would not have accepted it, since the people were aware of their intellectual ability.
From the meaning of the word “wilayah” (authority), primarily the leadership and administration of social affairs, governing, and maintaining order are understood.
Verses of the Qur’an and many traditions, such as the mutawatir tradition of Ghadir also support this understanding. The following two verses are an example:
إِنمَّاَ وَلِيُّكُمُ اللهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وُالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَوةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَوةَ وَهُمْ رَاكِعُونَ.
“Your wali is none but Allah and His messenger and the believers, those who establish the prayers and pay the poor-rate while they kneel (in their prayers).” (Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:55).
أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُوليِ الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ
“Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you (the Prophet’s legatees).” (Surah an-Nisa’, 4:59).
The word Imamah also indicates the aspect of spiritual Imamah and intellectual and religious leadership to the same degree, as the following verse expresses:
وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الخَيرَاتِ.
“And we made them leaders who guide at our command, and we revealed to them the performance of virtuous deeds.” (Surah al-Anbiya’, 21:73).
In addition to these, many other verses and traditions such as the tradition of Thaqalayn, Safinah, Aman, and other traditions indicate this point. Thus, it has come in the tradition of thaqalayn:
“Do not precede the Ahl al-Bayt, and do not go before them.”
In other words, be their followers. If greater attention is paid to the content of the mentioned verses and traditions, it will become known that they indicate both dimensions of leadership; thus the Shi’a have always considered the Imam the possessor of both positions, political leadership, and spiritual leadership, and have considered others to be usurpers.
The usurping rulers also knew this reality – that according the Shi’a, the Imam’s leadership is absolute – and thus, occasionally though they were confident that the Imam of the time did not intend to rise, they would act cautiously. As an example, Mansur had this belief with regard to Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him). Still, he wouldn’t abandon precaution, always kept the Imam under the surveillance of his secret officers, and would create difficulties for him in various ways. In the end he was still unable to bear the existence of the Imam, since he viewed the method the Imam had adopted as dangerous for his government; for this very reason he martyred him.
Harun adopted the same method. He held Imam Musa al-Kazim (peace be upon him) in prisons and under surveillance for many years, since he knew the Shi’a consider both positions of spiritual and worldly leadership as belonging to the Imam.
As opposed to this, the role and conduct of the Imams (peace be upon them), which was a cause of the protection of Shi’a thought and Islamic laws, was very important. It is possible to regard it as their miracle, and such action was not possible except through special Divine instruction.
Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him) and Imam Hasan (peace be upon him) adopted their particular policies, while Imam Husayn (peace be upon him) undertook his great uprising. In the same way, the remaining Imams (peace be upon them) each acted in a particular fashion. If they were not to do so, no path or method opposed to those tyrannous policies would be able to survive under such annihilating strikes; yet we see that the school of Shi’aism survived and even until today is known in the world as the symbol of true Islam and the herald of a just world government.
One point worth noting is that all of the Imams (peace be upon him) would promise that spiritual, intellectual, and practical leadership would in the future – in the age of the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him) – be united with political leadership, which hitherto was usurped by the oppressive rulers, and under the shadow of that leadership, all of Islam’s goals will be achieved.
As we know, the true Twelver Imami sect is called “twelver” (ithna ‘ashariyya) since its followers believe that after the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), his successors were twelve people. And among all of his ‘Ummah (community), they are the sole group who hold this belief; thus, the traditions about the twelve Imams which both Shi’a and Sunnis have narrated – and whose origin from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is undeniable – can only be applied to the Shi’a sect among all Muslims.
Naturally, the true sect will be limited to this group. In spite of all this, it is said that from some traditions – a few of which have been narrated in the book of Sulaim – it is possible to understand that the number of the Imams is thirteen, and this view has also been attributed to Ibn Sahl al-Nawbakhti. If, as it is said, a tradition with this content exists (or if Nawbakhti himself held this view, though this appears unlikely), how can it be explained and affirmed?
We have given sufficient explanation about the tradition or traditions that indicate that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is thirteen in the treatise “Clarity of Vision for One Who Follows the Twelve Imams.” There, we have clarified that the a tradition with this meaning does not exist; moreover, even if such a tradition were to exist, it is a tradition with a single narrator and with regard to principles of religion, beliefs, and issues in which attaining certainty is essential, traditions with single narrators are not relied upon.
In such an instance, only a firm rational argument or a tradition that is consecutively narrated (mutawatir) and certain to have originated from an infallible can be relied upon.
Furthermore, traditions that are mutawatir and have even passed the limits of tawatur (consecutive narration) indicate that the number of the Imams is twelve. In such a situation, if a single non-certain tradition is found in opposition to all these traditions, what creditability can it have, and how can a researcher rely on it? In addition, in the Musnad of Ahmad alone, it has been narrated through thirty-odd chains of narrators from the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is twelve, and in the Sahih of Muslim this point has been narrated through eight chains, and likewise in the remaining collections, Sahihs, Sunans (books of the sunnah), and books of the Ahl al-Sunnah, this topic has been referred to numerous times.
In Shi’a books as well traditions have been narrated with hundreds of chains that the Imams will be twelve, all of which were narrated by well-known companions and followers (tabi’in) up to two centuries before the birth of the twelfth Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him), and in reality this is counted as a type of prediction and information about the future.
In spite of all this, it was said that a tradition has been narrated from Sulaim that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) said to Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him): “You and twelve people from your progeny are the true Imams.”
The reality is that in the present text and the reliable texts that before our time were in the possession of the scholars, this tradition did not exist. Moreover, there are many traditions in the book of Sulaim ibn Qays itself that explicitly mention the Imams and their names as twelve people, and have specified the names of those twelve personages from Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him) to Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him) in the same order in which the Shi’a believe.
This book, written in the first century after the Hijra, is reliable and the sum of its material clearly establishes the truth of the Imami school, since it contains news about Imams who were not even born in that time. Firm signs and evidence indicates the correctness of this book.
Now, if we suppose the book contains such a tradition, that tradition can be interpreted in light of other books of traditions. That is, the intent of the tradition is to indicate the number of the Imams and that they are from the progeny of ‘Ali (peace be upon him), and since the majority – eleven out of twelve – of the Imams are from his progeny, it was explained in these words – which, it is likely, have not even been narrated in entirety.
Ibn Nadim attributed this view opposing the traditions regarding twelve Imams to Abu Sahl Nawbakhti, which appears not to be correct, since Abu Sahl Nawbakhti is not a person to express such an opinion, which has no evidence worthy of consideration. In Shi’a books of biographies and rijal (biographies of the narrators of hadith), in which the Nawbakhti family has been mentioned in detail, such a view has not been related regarding Abu Sahl in the section pertaining to him or to others, all have praised his school of thought, belief, and action. It appears these are the same types of mistakes that occur in the books of biographies and sects, and the writers of which have passed over them out of carelessness.
Attributing such baseless beliefs to well-known individuals has no result other than to mislead uninformed or ill-informed people.
In any case, the issue of Mahdawiyyah (messianism) and concealment and the remaining issues exclusive to the twelfth Imam (peace be upon him) have been in discussion since the beginning of Islam. Rather, in accordance to what is in the extant Torah and Bible, the precedent of this belief has roots in Divine religions previous to Islam and in the Old and New Testaments.
In the issue of Imamah, between reason and narration, which is given precedence? In other words, are the issues pertaining to the topic of Imamah primarily provable through intellectual proofs or narrated proofs?
As can be understood from the question itself, issues are of two types. One type are the issues that are ascertained through reason and are accepted through application of logical procedures and intellectual proofs, such as proving the existence of Allah, His essential attributes of perfection, and the necessity of prophecy, i.e. the proof of prophecy in general. The other type are those issues that are proved solely through narration, meaning that there is no way of proving them except revelation and relation by a truthful relater, that is, a prophet or Imam whose prophecy or Imamah is already established. Among these issues, there are also some issues that can be established in both ways. Of course, in this case the narrated proofs are a form of guidance towards the intellectual proofs.
The researcher must be well attentive to this aspect of issues and must see which discussion can be established through reason, which through narration alone, and which through both methods. And in each case, he should commence according to the method peculiar to that issue so that he can reach an appropriate conclusion. Otherwise, if he wishes to enter into an exclusively narrational issue through reason, it is natural that he will not reach a valid conclusion.
It is possible that some may raise a question regarding whether the principality of reason takes precedence in the issue of Imamah over the principality of narration or not.
The answer is that that in the issue of Imamah, like the issue of prophecy and the conditions of a prophet, proving the principle of general Imamah, i.e. proving the principle of a need for the existence of the Imam and the conditions of the Imam, is accomplished through reasoning. Of course, if the issue of Imamah were among the issues that are outside the limits of understanding of human reason and reasoning did not understand it independently, it could be proved by narrational evidence alone, i.e. the guidance of the Prophet. This is because reliance on narrational evidence with regard to the principle of Imamah, as opposed to the principle of prophecy, does not involve circular reasoning, though in the issue of prophecy it involves circular reasoning.
Thus, the narrational proofs of Imamah can also be regarded, similar to the narrational proofs of the principle of prophecy, as guidance to the decree of reason.
Issues such as the necessity of infallibility, how the Imam is appointed, and the fact that this affair has not been delegated to the people are principles pertaining to reason. And existing narrational proofs affirm this decree of reason.
It is obvious that with groups who, like the Asha’ira, do not believe in rational good and evil, discussion can only be held through those narrational proofs. Some of the effects and benefits of the existence of the Imam and his distinctions can only be proved through narrational proofs, just as these effects and unique traits are proved for the Prophet through narrational proofs.
In the issue of the specific Imamah (the Imamah of a particular person) as well, like the specific prophecy in which explicit declaration by the previous prophet is a proof of the prophecy of the following prophet, the prophet’s declaration of the Imam’s Imamah and likewise the declaration by the previous Imam of the Imamah of the following Imam is a proof of his Imamah. There is this difference that the principle way of establishing prophecy is a miracle, since the only true way to establish the prophecy of the first prophet is through a miracle and this is the only reliable evidence of the claim of prophecy, though the prophets after his prophecy can be established both by declaration of the previous prophets and by miracle, and the Divine way has also been to send prophets along with miracles, since the establishment of prophecy through a miracle is comprehensible by all.
However, the method of declaration by the previous prophet is only an authoritative proof for believers in that previous prophet. It is for this reason that we say that the method of establishment by miracle is a general way, which is an authoritative proof for all. Still, establishing the occurrence of a miracle at the hands of a prophet is limited to narrational methods for one who is absent from the time and place of occurrence of the miracle. Certainly, the Glorious Qur’an is the only miracle whose establishment has no need of narrational proofs, since it is existent, just as the explicit declaration of the Qur’an that it is impossible to bring its like indicates that it is a miracle.
In the issue of Imamah, the Imamah of the first Imam is established solely by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) declaration, and since it has been proven in the discussion of general Imamah that the Imamah of the Imam is through specification by the Prophet by command of Allah, the miracle that is manifested by the Imam, just as it is an independent proof of the truth of claim of Imamah, is also a proof of the declaration of the prophet, if such a declaration by the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is not in our hands. Reliance on rational proofs in the issue of specific Imamah is in order to establish the existence of a specific declaration.
For example: it can be said that it is obligatory for the prophet, in that Allah, in his absolute wisdom, has commanded the prophet to explicitly declare the Imamah, to specify and introduce the Imam after himself, even if that declaration is no longer accessible by us or has become ambiguous or its purport has become subject to doubt. Since the claim of a declaration has not been made except with regard to a specific personality – Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) – rationally, the person specified by Allah and the Prophet is not other than ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him).
Or it can be said that since the condition of the Imam – who is appointed by Allah and the prophet to lead humankind in religious and worldly affairs – is infallibility, and the claim of infallibility has not been made for anyone except ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him), rationally ‘Ali ibn Abi Taib (peace be upon him) is the appointed and infallible Imam.
Similarly, with regard to the twelfth Imam it is said that according to narrational proofs, the world is never without an Imam and Proof (hujjat) of Allah – apparent or hidden – and in this long period of over a thousand years, the chain of Imamah is not to be severed. And since the claim of Imamah has not been forwarded for anyone other than that personage, or if it has been made its invalidity has been proved, aside from him, who is in concealment, no one else is the Imam and he is the Imam. And if he is not the Imam, other objections discussed previously in the issue of the general Imamah will once again arise.
This is though there is no justification for raising them, since the result of such discussions leads to matters such as the performance of evil by Allah, the Wise, and so forth, from the like of which Allah’s essence is pure and free.