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, which 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, which 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 Ibn 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.
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?
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 Qur’an 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".1
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.
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."2
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, which 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.
The Sunnis themselves have created a situation which has weakened their case. Umar disallowed the writing of traditions (Ahadith). This is a historical fact, not a story invented by any hostile Shi'ah. It is admitted by the European Orientalists also who are neither the Shi'ah nor the Sunnis. Even the most sympathetic Orientalists say that Umar disallowed the writing of traditions because of his fear that tradition would divert the attention of the people from the Qur'an, which he wanted to be the sole source of law.
This is definitely a historical fact and not an allegation of the Shi'ites. During the days of Umar nobody could venture to write a Prophetic tradition and show his writing to others. Oral transmission of traditions was of course allowed. This situation continued till the time of Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz, who became Caliph in 99 A.H. and died in 101 A.H. He issued instructions that Prophetic traditions should be collected and put down in writing. Thus he changed Umar's policy. It is to be noted that immediately following Umar ibn Abdul Aziz's instructions those who were so far transmitting Prophetic traditions orally, undertook the work of writing them, but in the meanwhile a part of them had already been lost.
We know that the rules of Islamic law mentioned in the Qur'an are very brief. The Qur'an mostly mentions general rules only. For example, the Qur'an lays great stress on prayers. But still all that it says about them does not go beyond saying: "Establish prayers, prostrate and bow down."(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:43). Even it has not been explained how prayers are to be offered. Similarly there are so many rites connected with pilgrimage.
The Holy Prophet personally observed them. Had not the Prophetic traditions assumed the present practical form, the Muslims could not know anything about them. But the question is what opportunities the Holy Prophet had to enunciate all the Islamic injunctions. During his 13 years' stay in Makkah because of stern opposition and very tight situation there, the number of those who were converted to Islam could not probably exceed 400. People used to meet the Holy Prophet only secretly. Some 70 families which constituted half or even more than half of the total population of the Muslims, had to migrate to Ethiopia.
From this point of view Medina was a better place, but there the Holy Prophet had so many other commitments. Even if he worked like a whole-time teacher, during all these 23 years he did not have enough time at his disposal to impart all the teachings of Islam, especially in view of the fact that Islam is a complete code of human life particularly in our present age.
As a result of what they hold in this connection, the Sunnis had to face many practical difficulties in regard to the rules of Islamic law. They came across questions about which nothing was mentioned in the Qur'an. They checked the collections of traditions which they had, but there also they did not find the answer. What to do then? To solve the problem they resorted to analogy which means to extend on the basis of some existing similarity the rule of a text to a case not provided for in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. For example we say that the law says so in that case. As this case is some what similar to that, the same rule should apply to this case also. Possibly, in that case the Holy Prophet gave that particular order for such and such reason and as that reason exists in this case also, the same order should apply to it also.
As may be seen, the analogical deduction is based on possibilities only. The cases where Prophetic traditions were not available, were too many. The world of Islam greatly extended during the Abbasid period. Many countries were conquered. Consequently new problems arose everyday, the solution of which was not found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The result was that analogical deduction became a regular practice. The Sunnis were divided into two groups. The first group which included Ahmad ibn Hambal and
Malik ibn Anas, looked at analogical deduction with suspicion. It is said that Malik ibn Anas resorted to this process only in two cases. The other group which included Abu Hanifah made use of analogy on a too wide scale. Abu Hanifah used to say that the sayings attributed to the Holy Prophet were not reliable. He declared that he found only fifteen Prophetic traditions trustworthy. In all other cases he resorted to analogical deduction. Shafi'i had a midway position. In some cases he relied on Prophetic traditions and in others he applied analogy, with the result that he produced a sort of hotchpotch code of law. It is said that Abu Hanifah made so much use of analogy because he was of Irani origin and the Iranians by nature tend to take much interest in mental exercises, and because he lived in Iraq which was far away from Medina, the centre of the traditionalists. Anyhow, he indulged too much in analogy.
A Sunni writer says that one day Abu Hanifah went to a barber. His beard had a mixture of black and grey hair but the number of the grey hair was not very large. He asked the barber to pull out the grey hair. The barber said: "If grey hair is pulled out, it tends to grow more copiously." Abu Hanifah said: "Then pull out the black hair, for my analogy says that in case grey hair grows copiously if it is pulled out, the same thing should happen in the case of black hair also." But the fact is that if there is any such rule, it applies to grey hair only, not to black hair. Anyhow, Abu Hanifah made similar deductions in the case of jurisprudence also.
When we refer to the Shi'ah traditions we find that according to them the need of analogy is felt only because of the wrong notion that the Qur'an and the Sunnah are not enough to provide all the necessary rules of law. The fact is that this notion is totally wrong. We have received such a quantity of Prophetic traditions either directly or through the chosen descendants of the Holy Prophet, which if we refer to the principles laid down therein, we need not resort to analogical deduction at all. That is the spirit of Imamat from religious point of view.
Islam is not merely a creed or a doctrine. It cannot be said that after its ideology has been enunciated by its founder it only requires a government to implement that ideology. It is a complete code and that position of it must be kept in mind.
From the viewpoint of leadership and rulership the position is that Imam Ali the Holy Prophet's successor who is as infallible as the Prophet himself and who has been designated by him to be his successor, cannot be placed at par with other people. His position is exceptional like that of the Prophet himself. Therefore in his case there is no room for any election, consultation or any other such thing. In the case of the Prophet nobody ever said that he was only the Messenger of Allah and the people were at liberty to choose him or anybody else to be their ruler. Everybody knew that as he was superhuman and had contact with the Divine world, in his presence there could be no question of any election or selection.
After the Holy Prophet, also there was no room for any such thing, for he had designated twelve successors to strengthen Islam during the next two or three centuries and to expound it in a way free from every error. In the presence of such persons capable of explaining all the injunctions of Islam, there could be no question of any election etc. Is it reasonable to choose someone else in the presence of a person absolutely infallible and extremely competent and learned in every sense of the word?
Furthermore, when Imam Ali had been appointed an Imam in the sense mentioned by us, worldly leadership was also naturally due to him. In fact the Holy Prophet designated Imam Ali to this assignment because Imam Ali was an Imam and infallible. Anyhow, the case is different during the occultation of the present Imam, for there exists no infallible Imam free to exercise his worldly authority.
Similarly the case would have been different if the events of the early period of Islam had not taken place and. Imam Ali had become Caliph immediately after the Holy Prophet and had been succeeded by Imam Hasan, then by Imam Husayn and so on till the times of the last Imam. In this case there would have been no reason for occultation. After the demise of the last infallible Imam the question of rulership would have assumed a different shape. Then it could be asked how this question is to be solved. Is it or is it not necessary that a jurist fulfilling all the prerequisite conditions should be the ruler? Can people elect their ruler?
As such from the very beginning we should not regard the question of Imamat as a simple question of worldly government. It would be wrong to ask at this stage whether Islam wants a government based on nomination or a government based on election, and then to ask why the Shi'ah advocate a particular form of government. The question is not so simple. It must be admitted that in the presence of an infallible Imam, nobody else can have a claim to the rulership in the same way as in the presence of the Holy Prophet nobody else could be the ruler. The Holy Prophet had appointed Imam Ali the Imam and as such it was his privilege to be the ruler also. Besides, on several occasion the Holy Prophet made it clear that Imam Ali was to succeed him as the ruler of the Muslims. Anyhow, it is to be remembered that he made this nomination on the basis that Imam Ali was the Imam after him.
Earlier I mentioned a point in which I believe persona and consider it to be a basic doctrine, though it might not be a cardinal principle of Shi'ism. The question is what the special characteristics of the Holy Prophet's position were? What was revealed to him, did it only confine to Divine injunctions; and the fundamental principles and collateral teachings of Islam? Was his knowledge confined to the realities of Islam, or was any other information also communicated to him by Allah? Is his excellence in regard to piety confined to his being infallible and immune from all errors? Almost the same questions arise in respect of the Imams also. Though they received no revelation from Allah, yet they received thorough knowledge of Islam, through the Holy Prophet and their knowledge was as free from the possibility of any error as that of the Holy Prophet himself. As regards piety, the Imams are also infallible.
Now the question is whether a Prophet or an Imam has besides these features some other. special features or qualities also reposed in his person. Besides religious knowledge what are the other branches of knowledge with which he is endowed? Is it true that the reports about the deeds performed by his Ummah (followers) are presented to the Holy Prophet, and similar reports are also presented to each Imam during his lifetime. Now the present Imam knows, hears and sees everything that happens in the world. He watches the deeds not of the Shi'ites only but of all people. In this respect there is no difference between a living and a dead Imam. As stated earlier, when you visit the grave of Imam Al-Ridha’, and greet him, this action takes place as if you are calling on a person living in this world. When you greet the Imam, he hears you and looks at you. That is a manifestation of spiritual Wilayat.
We said earlier that the question of Wilayat is the point where mysticism and Shi'ism meet each other. Their ideas in this respect are very close. The mystics say that in every age there must exist a perfect man whom they call the qutb. The Shi'ah hold that in every age there must be an Imam and religious authority, who is a perfect man. As this question is not a matter of dispute between the Shi'ah and the Sunnis, we do not propose to dwell on it further at this stage. The disputed points are two, namely Imamat in the sense of expounding religion and Imamat in the sense of worldly leadership of the Muslims.
In regard to the question of Imamat, you should not ignore the importance of this tradition. If by chance you have to face a Sunni scholar or even a non-scholar, you should ask him whether the Holy Prophet did or did not utter such a sentence. If he says that he did not, you can put before him so many books of the Sunnis themselves. In fact the Sunni scholars cannot, and generally do not, deny the existence and veracity of such a tradition.3
Then say to him: "The Holy Prophet has designated the Qur'an as the authority No. 1 and his 'descendants' as the authority No. 2. Now tell us who these descendants are."
It may be noted that the Sunnis make no difference between the Holy Prophet's descendants and others. They narrate Prophetic traditions more often on the authority of other companions than on the authority of Imam Ali. Even when they quote Imam Ali, they quote him as a transmitter of a Prophet's tradition, not as an authority.
As we have said, he who is the authority for a religion must also be the leader of that religion. Further, as far as leadership is concerned, the Holy Prophet expressly designated Imam Ali to that. The tradition of Ghadir is an instance of such a declaration. The Ghadir declaration was made by the Holy Prophet on the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage at a place called Ghadir al-Khumm. This pilgrimage was the last Hajj performed by the Holy Prophet. In all probability he did not perform more than one Hajj after the conquest of Makkah, but he performed one 'Umrah before his farewell Pilgrimage. On the occasion of the farewell Pilgrimage he issued a general invitation to all the Muslims to attend that Hajj.
When all of them assembled, he delivered sermons on different occasions in the Masjidul Haram, at Arafat, at Mina, outside Mina and at Ghadir al-Khumm. After mentioning some other points at Ghadir al-Khumm he finally mentioned a point which he greatly emphasized. In our opinion he made it the last point because of this verse which he recited there:
“O 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-Ma'idah, 5:67).
The Holy Prophet mentioned many principles of Islam and collateral matters in his sermons which he delivered at Arafat, Mina and Masjidul Haram. On all these occasions he dealt with important matters. But at Ghadir al-Khumm he made an announcement about which he said that if he did not make it, all that he had said would become void. Then he said: "Am I not closer to you than your own selves?" He was referring to a Qur'anic verse which says:
"The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves." (Surah al-Ahzab, 33:6).
He continued to say "Do I not have more authority over you than you yourselves have?" All those who were present said: "Yes, Messenger of Allah, you have." Then the Holy Prophet announced: "This Ali is the master (Maula) of him, whose master I am."
A comprehensive summary of the question of Ghadir was published a few years back at Mashhad in the form of a book by the Society for Publication of Islamic Truths. I have not yet read this book, but those friends of mine who have read it, say that it is a very good book, at least worth reading.
It will require too much space if we attempt to study all the sources of the tradition of Ghadir which we claim to be a mutawatir tradition or the tradition of Thaqalayn, the sources of which Mir Hamid Husayn, the author of the 'Abaqatul Anwar has traced in 400 pages of large size. While dealing with the crux of the problem of Imamat, we would like to make only a brief mention of the authorities on which the Shi'ah base their claim in this regard, although the question might need rather a more elaborate discussion.
- 1. Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 192.
- 2. Sahih Muslim, Vol. VII, p. 122.
- 3. Some preachers have made a gross misuse of this tradition, for they invariably use it as a prelude to narrating the misfortunes of the Prophet's chosen descendants. One may think that when the Holy Prophet said that he was leaving two things behind him: the Qur'an and his descendants, what he meant was only that those two things were to be held in high respect and were not to be insulted at all. In fact what the Holy Prophet meant was that he was living behind two authorities to which all religious and social questions were to be referred. In the concluding part of this tradition the Holy Prophet has said: "So long as you adhere to them, you will not go astray." So the question is that of adherence. The Holy Prophet has declared his descendants equal with the Qur’an. He himself has said that the Qur'an was the major 'thaqal' and his descendants the minor 'thaqal'.