Based on mental reason for necessity of existence of the Imam, mentioned before, and some Quranic verses about the Imamate as well as many traditions from Prophet Muhammad (S) and infallible Imams (a.s.) regarding the issue of Imamate, our belief about the twelve Imams (a.s.) is that:
1. They are completely away from any sins, faults, and wrongdoing and are infallible.
2. They are the most perfect humans in knowing the Almighty Allah and His Attributes. They deeply believe in Allah’s uniqueness, the Resurrection, and prophet hood. They see the unseen world intuitively.
3. They are adorned with all ethical virtues and away from all vices.
4. They are completely aware of religious rules, commandments, fundamental and minor issues, obligatory, undesirable, recommended, and prohibited deeds. They did not receive the revelation or make religious rules; rather they deducted their knowledge directly from the Holy Quran or indirectly from the Prophet (S) or the books inherited from Messenger of Allah (S).
5. They knew well all governmental rules and regulations. They benefited from especial authority too.
The infallible Imams (a.s.) had two major duties as well:
The honorable Imams (a.s.) of the Shi’ah possessed the necessary sciences and were prepared for safeguarding religious rules and commandments, circulating Islamic teachings and sciences, and pursuing Prophet Muhammad (S)’s purposes. As mentioned before, the Messenger of Allah (S) had trained them for this important duty. He introduced his ‘Itrat or Ahlul Bayt as the most valid scientific source to the Muslims and recommended benefitting from their knowledge.
But unfortunately Prophet Muhammad (S)’s purpose was not fully realized; the seekers of property and worldly positions not only removed the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.)from caliphate of the Prophet (S), but also hindered their scientific authority, depriving the Islamic ummah from authentic prophet hood sciences. Each of the Imams (a.s.) attempted in publicizing Islamic sciences, teachings, and commandments and training scholars as much as possible in those limited conditions.
As a result of such constant attempts throughout the ages, hundreds of thousands of traditions in various scientific trends were published, most of which are recorded in tradition books. If the infallible Imams (a.s.) had more opportunity, the Islamic ummah benefitted from more Islamic sciences and teachings.
The second major duty of the Imams (a.s.) was incumbency of caliphate and managing the Islamic country’s socio-political affairs, which was a duty of Prophet Muhammad (S)’s too. The Messenger of Allah (S) had given necessary recommendations before and appointed Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) as his successor in Ghadir Khum. Imam Ali (a.s.) was ready for accepting the caliphate position, but people’s acceptance and desirable conditions were necessary for realization of it too.
Unfortunately, a group of ambitious people ignored Prophet Muhammad (S)’s recommendation regarding Muslims’ caliphate, misused ignorance of the masses, and created a deviation in the course of caliphate, opposing the Prophet (S)’s want. In such conditions, Imam Ali (a.s.) could do nothing but patience. Twenty five years passed until the people awakened and took the oath of allegiance with Imam Ali (a.s.) as Muslims’ caliph.
Later, however, some people, who had accustomed to and benefitted from prejudice and injustice in previous governments, could not accept Imam Ali’s (a.s.) just ruling. They opposed his government by setting up wars and adversities. After about five years, Imam Ali (a.s.) was martyred in worshipping mihrab.
The caliphate then returned to a devious course under the Ummayid and the Abbasids dynasties for many years, with no grounds for caliphate of the other infallible Imams (a.s.). Each of the Imams (a.s.) considered the caliphate after Messenger of Allah (S) his lawful right and was prepared for taking the position. None of them, nevertheless, could reach caliphate because of Muslims’ delinquency.
The term Shi’ah is attributed to someone who believes in successive Imamate and caliphate of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and eleven of his progeny after Prophet Muhammad (S) and loves them. Such a person is a Twelver Shi’ah. Of course, mere verbal affection does not suffice for being a real Shi’ah nor does it guarantee salvation in this world and the Hereafter. Basically, the belief without practice is merely a mental concept.
The lexical meaning of ‘Shi’ah’ is ‘follower’. There is a kind of practical adherence embedded in its meaning too. The Shi’ah were called so because they followed the Messenger of Allah (S), Imam Ali (a.s.), and infallible Imams (a.s.) in speech, behavior, and ethics. Practice is a necessity for real belief. If there is no practice, one’s belief is probably superficial. Real affection brings about attention and satisfaction of the beloved. Can someone be a real lover of infallible Imams (a.s.) but behave against their recommendations?
For a better recognition of real Shi’ahs one should refer to the statements of infallible Imams (a.s.). Some of the traditions in this regard are pointed out here:
Jabir has quoted from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.), “O Jabir! Is it enough for a Shi’ah to say ‘I love the Ahlul Bayt’? By Allah, a Shi’ah should be pious and obedient to the Almighty. O Jabir! Our followers (Shi’ahs) are known with these characteristics; humility, obeisance in worshipping, trusteeship, frequency of zikr (Allah’s remembrance), Sawm (fasting), Salat (prayer), goodness to one’s parents, consideration of poor neighbors, debtors, and orphans, except that leaving such deeds is better. Our Shi’ahs were trustees among the people.”
Jabir then asked, “O son of Messenger of Allah! We do not see such people in this time.” Imam Baqir (a.s.) stated, “O Jabir! Do not go astray! Does it suffice to say ‘I love Ali (a.s.) and accept his guardianship’ but not to follow Ali (a.s.) in practice? If someone says, ‘I love Messenger of Allah (S)’, but he does not follow the Prophet (S)’s conduct, this affection will be of no use to him, though the Messenger of Allah (S) is better than Ali (a.s.). Fear Allah and do good deeds! The Almighty is no one’s relative. The most beloved and honorable of the servants are the most righteous and pious ones. O Jabir! By Allah that only piety approaches the servants to Allah. Distance from the Hell is not in our hands. No one has a Hujjat (argument) against Allah. Anyone who obeys Allah is our friend. Anyone who disobeys Allah is our enemy. No one can get to our guardianship except with righteous deed and avoiding the sins.”1
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) told Fuzayl, “Say our greetings to our Shi’ahs and tell them, ‘We can do nothing for you against Allah’s will, except when you avoid sins.’ So keep your tongues and hands from wrongdoing. Establish prayers and be patient. Surely Allah is with the patient.”2
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) told Ibn Jundab, “Tell our Shi’ahs, ‘Do not go astray! By Allah that you will not get to our guardianship except by avoiding the sins, attempting in worshipping, and helping your religious brothers. Anyone who oppresses the people is not our Shi’ah.’”3
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) stated, “O Shi’ah! Keep our face! Do not lose our face! Be kind to people, keep your tongues from sins, do not say useless or obscene words!”4
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) told Abu Usamah, “Attempt in piety, avoiding sins, patience in worshipping, truthful speech, returning the trusts, kind manner, and goodness to neighbors. Attract people to yourselves with your deeds not verbally! Gain our face! Perform long ruku’ and sujud, because while you perform them Satan cries out, ‘Woe be on me! This servant of Allah obeyed Him and performed sujud, but I but I did not and disobeyed Him.’”5
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) stated, “Watch out not to do something by which we (the Ahlul Bayt) are reproached, because a bad child loses his father’s face by wrongdoing. Be an honor for someone to who you are attached!”6
Imam Hasan Askari (a.s.) told the Shi’ahs, “I recommend you to observe piety in religion, endeavor for the Almighty Allah, be truthfulness, return the trusts to everyone –good or bad, perform long sujud, and do good to the neighbors.”
The Messenger of Allah (S) was appointed to prophet hood for the same things. Pray in Muslims’ mosques, escort their dead bodies, visit their patients, and fully pay their rights, because when one of you is pious, truthful, payer of trusts, and good-mannered, it is said about him, ‘He is a Shi’ah.’ Then we will be pleased.”
Be pious and gain our face. This way you will bring affection for us and remove bad reputation from us. Surely, whatever goodness is said about us we deserve it and we are away from whatever badness that is said about us. We have rights in Allah’s Book, in relation with Messenger of Allah (S), and due to purification by the Exalted Allah. No one can claim these positions, but a liar.”
Remember Allah much! Do not forget death! Recite Quran much! Say benediction (salawat) to Prophet Muhammad (S)! Salawat on Messenger of Allah (S) has a tenfold reward. Follow these recommendations! I say farewell to you. Allah’s blessings be on you!”7
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) wrote in his letter to the Shi’ahs, “Observe the Salat times, especially Salatul wusta (The Noon Prayer). Pray for Allah’s sake, as the Almighty has ordered the believers in His Book. Befriend poor Muslims, because anyone who belittles them has gone astray and irritated Allah. My grandfather, Muhammad (S) stated, ‘The Exalted Allah has ordered me to like poor Muslims.’ Beware that anyone who humiliates Muslims will be belittled by Allah so that the people will hate him.”8
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) stated, “O the Shi’ah of Muhammad’s Ahlul Bayt! Anyone who does not control his anger, behaves unkindly with his friends and companions, does not reconcile with friends, and does not disagree with enemies is not our Shi’ah. O the Shi’ah of Muhammad (S)’s Household! Observe piety as much as you can. Wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa bi Allah (There is no power except from Allah).”9
The mentioned traditions and many other similar ones reveal some points:
1. The mere expression of Shi’ism and affection for the Prophet (S)’s Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) does not suffice for proving Shi’ism; rather performing religious duties and avoiding sins are the major indicators of Shi’ism.
2. Expression of affection for the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) does not bring about salvation from calamities in the Hereafter if it does not accompany performing obligatory deeds and avoiding unlawful ones.
3. The wilayat (guardianship) of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) is not guaranteed but by observing religious duties and avoiding the sins.
4. Everyone who obeys Allah’s orders is the friend of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) and anyone who transgresses the Divine regulations is an enemy of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), even if he expresses affection for them verbally.
5. Salvation, distance from the Hell, and gaining the Paradise in not in the hands of infallible Imams (a.s.); rather, humans go to the Hell or the Paradise based on their own deeds.
6. The infallible Imams (a.s.) have asked their followers to make people optimistic about the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) by their good manner and speech and do not lose their face by wrongdoing.
7. The honorable Messenger of Allah (S) and infallible Imams (a.s.) were men of practice themselves. They were committed to not only doing the obligatory deeds and avoiding the unlawful ones, but also to doing the desirable and avoiding the undesirable deeds. They were prominent in observing good manner and conduct among the people of their ages and were away from vices.
The Muslims and the Shi’ah are obliged to follow these noble characters as their pattern. The salvation in this world and the Hereafter is only provided in this way. Next, the twelve Imams of the Shi’ah are introduced in brief.