Chapter 3: God’s Continuous Guidance Through His Chosen Guides

Questions addressed in this chapter:

- Pillars of Islam – common for all Muslims

What is the main difference between Shi’a and Sunni?

- What is the meaning of Imamah (divine chosen leadership)?

Why are guiders/leaders needed?

Who appoints them, and why?

What characteristics do they have?

What methods do they use, for whom are they intended for and what is their goal?

E3. Pillars Of Islam – Common Foundation For All Denominations

The main difference between Shi’a and Sunni can briefly be understood in the perception of Islamic leadership, which is Imamah. Different views are held regarding the central role it should hold, the function it serves as well as to whom the choice of it befalls.

In general terms, there is no major difference between the Shi’a and Sunni school of thought, on these three basic pillars of faith:

Tawhid – Allah as the only God without equal.

Nubuwwah – God’s servant and messenger, Prophet Muhammad (S), as the last of God sent prophets.

Qiyama – Judgment Day, accounting and life after this.

Both Shi’a and Sunni, and in fact, all who enter Islam, believe in these three pillars. These pillars form the basis of Islam’s doctrine while the testimony “la ilaha ill Allah; Muhammad Rasoul-Allah” (there is no deity except God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God) is the literal sign to enter Islam.

Imamah and ‘Adalah (divine justice) are viewed in Shi’a Islam to fall under the pillars of Nubuwwah and tawhid respectively and are therefore an extension and an essential complement to the three foundational pillars. Imamah is a continuation of Nubuwwah, as there is a need for a guide for people in every time. Moreover, ‘Adalah is an integral part of tawhid and a prerequisite for the Day of Judgment, where the premise of reckoning befalls on account of God’s justice.1 These two concepts are also referred to as usul-e mathhab, the pillars of the doctrine, which characterize Shi’a belief.

The concepts are even accepted in the belief of most Sunni branches, albeit with minor differences. For instance, it is not given the same extent of centrality as in the Shi’a orientation. While the emphasis is often put on ‘Adalah as Muslim orientations hold differing views in its regard, it is the contrasting notions of Imamah that serves as the principal difference between Shias and Sunnis. Other differences stem from this contrast. The differences are mainly notable in the practical details following various regulations and within fiqh (jurisprudence). However, since Imamah is a matter of belief in the Imams (‘a) from the Prophet’s (S) lineage/kin as rightful, divinely chosen, infallible leaders and the mediators of religion after the Prophet (S), such a view permeates the whole of religion in its practical dimensions and can become crucial even in the minor matters.

In What Way Does Imamah Become Crucial?

Islam is a living religion, bestowing guidance to people with intent to uphold human wellbeing and progression at all times. In the course of changing times and societal progress, there are constantly new questions emerging. This is, for instance, seen, while not limited to, the field of fiqh (jurisprudence). Akin to the religion as a whole, fiqh is living and constitutes open spaces for students and conclusions to be drawn that are relatable to the present day while being entrenched in the prescribed framework given.

In this regard, alongside the Qur’an and the Prophet (S), Shias also rely on the Prophet’s (S) Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) – the Imams (‘a) of his lineage – as infallible and divinely chosen guides. The customs of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) become, similar to the Prophet (S), hadith and sunnah. Therefore, their word and actions are upheld as a source by the Shi’a; it provides the basis for the practical implementations of God’s commands written in The Holy Qur’an, as well as for fatwa (legal pronouncements). The words and actions of the Imams (‘a) are consecutively based on the word of God, the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (S) words and actions, which are the epitome of the Qur’an in practice. In contrast, Sunnis do not regard the Imams (‘a) as divinely chosen with an exclusive position nor with precedence in interpretation. Instead, they imply that all of the Prophet’s (S) companions hold a similar position, some of which are more prominent and dominant as personalities and/or in narrating hadiths. Amongst them, there are principally four jurists2 that have been adopted as the founders and leaders of the four Sunni orientations, all of which have a collection of hadiths and fatwas used within the Sunni branches.

In practical terms, in any instance where a Shi’a jurist issues a fatwa within a fiqh question, he begins with the Qur’an and substantiates with the Prophet’s (S) and Imams’ (‘a) ahadith and implementations alongside logical reasoning. This is contrary to a Sunni jurist who would begin with the Qur’an and substantiate with the Prophet’s (S) and the companions’ ahadith and implementations as well as the books of their four leaders.

Consequently, the disparity in the issue of Imamah becomes the most crucial question in which disparities exist. While the Sunni school of thought also believes in the concept, it is not acknowledged as a divinely chosen leadership. Nonetheless, Sunni Muslims still adore and respect the Prophet’s (S) Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), comprised by the Prophet (S), his daughter Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) and the twelve Imams (‘a). They consider Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) to be of the most devout, righteous and intelligent personalities of their time.3 In comparison, the Shi’a Muslims regard Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) to be in a lofty and unique position as divinely chosen, infallible leaders that are descendent from the lineage of the Prophet (S). The words and actions of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are a reflection of the Prophet (S) and therefore of equal importance to follow.

F. God Does Not Leave Creation Without A Guide

God is the Merciful, the Wise and the Utterly Just, and has accordingly created us with a purpose and creational purpose. Can He then call on us to achieve such an aim without providing us with the necessary means needed to attain it? From a historical point of view, delineating God’s sunnah (procedure, approach based on His established principles that prevail in the world system and operates the world), has God ever left mankind without a guide?

The answer to both questions is a prompt “No!”. God’s wisdom predicates that He does not create anything without purpose and goal whilst His justice deems that He would not require that which is not possible to achieve. This leads to the fact that God has equipped man with all the necessary means and conditions4 required for him to achieve his purpose of creation. This constitutes, inter alia, the need for guidance and guides that serve as a paragon for the journey towards God. In fact, it is one of God’s established principles that for every period of time, there shall be a guide. God says:

“And those who disbelieved say, ‘Why has a sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?’ You are only a warner, and for every person is a guide.” (The Holy Qur’an, 13:7).

It is rather the case that God never leaves humankind without a guide that facilitates man to achieve his aim of creation. In essence, if God has set forth a purpose that demands the need for a guide, by virtue of His justice, the means necessary for its fulfilment will be bestowed by Him. God further says;

“Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then God sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves. And God guided those who believed to the truth concerning that over which they had differed, by His permission. And God guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:213)

A question for contemplation: why would God, who has never left humanity without a guide, suddenly after the Prophet’s (S) death leave the people without one? Historically, God has continuously sent His prophets (‘a) and their successors for guidance and to lead people to Him, so why would He not do so after His last Prophet (S)? At a time when neither man’s creational purpose has been fulfilled, nor his need for guidance ceased, why would a God that is both wise and just, abruptly stop providing mankind with His guides? Why would God deviate from His sunnah when all the given parameters remain uniformly unchanged? On the contrary, it is rather that God’s wisdom and justice purposes that humanity is endowed with guidance so long as the need prevails and until the creational purpose is fulfilled.

The Leaders Of Guidance – God’s Or The People’s Choice?

A guide is an essential prerequisite to reach the path and achieve the goal, but is it fundamental that the guide is chosen by God?

Envision yourself on a journey to reach a certain destination. Ask yourself: do I need guidance and a correct address to reach the place intended for? If you find yourself in a completely unknown area and on unfamiliar roads, would it be beneficial to ask a person acquainted with the area for guidance and directions? Can a person who does not know the destination and the correct path to it guide you correctly? Whom would you prefer asking; the one that has only heard of the destination or the one that has been there before?

The notion that a guide is ordained by God is upheld and supported by numerous Qur’anic verses and prophetic sayings. Nonetheless, the claim can also be proven through logical reasoning. It is essential for a guide to fulfil a series of requirements and conditions before being recognised as a legitimate guide. Amongst which is having knowledge and being aware of the righteous path and goal. They must themselves be pioneers on the path which they guide others towards. At the same time, it is necessary for them to uphold the highest possible degree of piety, wisdom and expertise to ensure that they do not follow their desires, fall to temptation or commit mistakes along the path.5 Evidently, people do not have the capacity to determine whether or not all conditions are met in a guide since man’s insight in the matter is both inadequate and deficient.

For instance, a person may seem to fulfil the conditions when, in reality, his true intent could be hidden or changed with time. The person cannot even with certainty guarantee his own goodness will remain intact over the course of time. Man is a complicated being and within himself holds a whole world with countless uncharted layers to be explored. This man, who is somewhat of a mystery even to himself, cannot know with certainty what choices to take in regard to unknown situations until they occur. Who other than God – the Omniscient, most knowing of the manifest and hidden, the One that knows everything about His creation and hence what is best for them – will know? Who other than God maybe just in their choice of guides that hold superior authority and command over His creations?

A divinely chosen leadership even after the Prophet’s (S) passing is, therefore as self-evident as during his lifetime. It ensures people do not end up on a misguided path at times when circumstances change, and previously unknown lurking dangers come to light. The need for a guide who is both justified to lead and informed of the right path, its pitfalls and traps and how best to avoid them, is always relevant, even after the Prophet (S). The continuation of this divinely chosen leadership is, therefore, both a necessity and a condition that provides the best prospect for humanity to reach its creational purpose.

It is clearly stated in The Holy Qur’an, that God never leaves people without a guide.6 God sends His guides to the people so that they shall journey on the path towards Him and flourish in achieving their full potential and therefore, their purpose of creation.

“God chooses messengers from among the angels and from among the men; surely Allah is Hearing, Seeing.” (The Holy Qur’an, 22:75).

He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them. And to God will be returned [all] matters.” (The Holy Qur’an, 22:76).

Qur’anic Evidence

One of the most apparent verses in The Holy Qur’an, in which God refers the choice of an Imam as a divinely chosen leader and in which the magnitude of the position of Imamah is displayed is the following verse:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands, and he fulfilled them. [God] said, ‘Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people.’ [Abraham] said, ‘And of my descendants?’ [God] said, ‘My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:124).

In the present verse, God is talking about Prophet Ibrahim (‘a), and the trial the prophet was subjected to in relation to the commandment to sacrifice his son Ismail (‘a). Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) submitted to God’s order, together with his son. God rescued Ismail (‘a) at the last moment and accepted the sacrifice from Prophet Ibrahim (‘a).7

This incident took place at a later age of Prophet Ibrahim (‘a), when his son Ismail (‘a), whom God had bestowed upon Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) after a long wait, had reached adolescence. By that time, Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) was already a prophet and a chosen messenger and had been given the high status of Khalil-Allah (God’s friend). But it is only in the context of this great trial, after many previous trials, that God entitles the Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) as Imam.

The verse essentially clarifies two crucial points, one of which is that the choice of Imam is by God Himself, while the other is that the position of Imam is of such importance that Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) receives it after passing a great trial.8

Why Is A Guide Needed?

Why does God send guides? What is their mission, and what are they destined to do? What methods do they use to carry out their mission?

The main goal of God’s sent guides is to awaken people and reconnect them to their human reality; to their soul, and thereby to their Lord!

In a worldly life of pitfalls and highs and its conspicuous luring diversity, man tends to fall into neglect and slumber in regard to himself and his spiritual well-being. The primary mission of God’s sent guides is to awaken people of the forgotten reality they are immersed in and make them return to their fitra9, which innately professes Tawhid10. By virtue of this, people are freed from all that enslaves them and keeps them from fulfilling their true potential. It is only by being God’s servant, submitted to Him alone and holding fast to goodness and justice, that God’s chosen guides lead people to actualize their innate disposition in the light of worship.

“So, direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitra of God upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of God. That is the correct religion, but most people do not know.” (The Holy Qur’an, 30:30).

The significant mission that the Godly sent guides hold is primarily carried out by reminding people of certain truths regarding themselves, the course of life, one’s own presence in this world, the prevailing order of this life, and the afterlife. This, among other things, reminds people of all the blessings that surround them and which they enjoy without really thinking about it. The remembrance and attention of these forgotten blessings urge man to reflect on his origins and at the same time awaken the feeling of gratitude within.

“And God has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.” (The Holy Qur’an, 16:78).

“And not alike are the two bodies of water. One is fresh and sweet, palatable for drinking, and one is salty and bitter. And from each, you eat tender meat and extract ornaments which you wear, and you see the ships ploughing through [them] that you might seek of His bounty, and perhaps you will be grateful.” (The Holy Qur’an, 35:12).

By virtue of fostering logical thinking through thought-provoking questions and reasonable arguments, these guides seek to uncover the truths that govern this world and illuminate the creational purpose. Some of the current topics for man to reflect upon include, but are not limited to, creation, nature’s harmony, man’s own being and creation, death as an actuality in all human life and the history of the people that have preceded.

“And it is He who spread the earth and placed therein firmly set mountains and rivers, and from all of the fruits He made therein two mates; He causes the night to cover the day. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought” (The Holy Qur’an, 13:3).

“Similar situations [as yours] have passed on before you, so proceed throughout the earth and observe how was the end of those who denied.” (The Holy Qur’an, 3:137).

“Then We sent after them Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his establishment, but they were unjust toward them. So, see how was the end of the corrupters.” (The Holy Qur’an, 7:103).

These questions help man find himself and realise his true position in regard to creation. That is to say; these questions are beneficial in finding the answer to the three fundamental questions that human beings naturally seek to find answers for.11 As man realises his place in existence, such insight will affect all his relations; relation to God, to other people and to the whole of creation. As man’s life has a clear purpose and her relations clear frameworks, man becomes actively in charge of his own destiny and life choices.

“O People, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed, We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed - that We may show you. And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term, then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity. And among you is he who is taken in [early] death, and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing. And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain, it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind.” (The Holy Qur’an, 22:5).

The guides give reminders to the people to serve as a wakeup call to awaken man so that he opens his eyes to reality and recognizes the truth. They deliver a message of felicity in regard to the possibility of meeting God, man’s ability to refine and achieve happiness and eternal life, while also warning of the consequences of not preparing for the encounter with God.

“Indeed, We have sent you with the truth as a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And there was no nation but that there had passed within it a warner.” (The Holy Qur’an, 35:24).

In essence, the guides seek all these gateways to draw man’s attention towards God’s signs so that he becomes acquainted with his Lord, wherein man can become alive in the heart and the soul, which is the essence of his being. It may be stated that the supreme mission of the guides is to sharpen the hidden diamond within each person. This entails uncovering man’s abilities and his, yet to flourish, intellectual and spiritual powers that God has placed within him.

Every human being is a unique world in his own right, waiting to be discovered, developed and flourished. If a man would achieve his full potential and make his intellect flourish and at the same time, refine his soul, it would be a great leap forward for all of creation. The effects would be evident within all possible dimensions, worlds and fields, not least within all forms of knowledge and sciences in this world.12

In contrast, adhering to wrongness and falsehood, negligence, sins and moral depravity acts as a veil and prevents the above-mentioned potentialities from being fully realized and manifested. The man enters a state of being unbalanced when excess and/or lack of focus is given to physical needs, the self, material comforts and worldly bondage. Islam advocates a middle way where balance is the key point. It is from such a perspective that, for instance, living in libidinous ways is considered as unbalanced as living in celibacy. Man’s essence as a whole is made of several parts, each inciting different needs and potentials, and therefore the whole of the man must be taken into account without one aspect suffering at the expense of another. Therefore, the mission of God’s guides can be further explained as promoting man’s refinement and his abilities based on the balance of her entire being, to the extent that man himself is willing and receptive. This is both through the universal instructions in the form of the rules and laws of religion as well as through more individuAl-based inspiration at the intellectual, hearty and spiritual level.

On these grounds, God’s commands are communicated to people through instructions sent by their Creator and Lord. These instructions make up the prerequisites for a life of the calibre God intended for man. In brief, it may be said that the mission of God’s guides is to portray and assist man to lead a good life here on earth whilst also refining man to prepare for his permanent abode in the next world.

All of the aforementioned missions are neither standalone nor independent of each other. Rather, they constitute a whole, as one puzzle piece can only be put in place together with the other pieces. Ultimately, the mission of the guides sent by God can be viewed as threefold; to guide towards tawhid; to lead man towards absolute happiness in light of his relationship with God; to foster humanity’s prosperity by the establishment of justice in society.

F1. God’s Guidance Through His Chosen Guides - The Messenger And His Successors

Messenger – Prophets (‘A)

Who are God’s sent guides, and what are their characteristics? What is the mission of the messenger, that is, the prophets (‘a)? What role do they have in relation to their mission?

One of the basic principles of faith in all divine religions is precisely the question of prophecy, as well as the necessity of a messenger whom God has chosen, designated as a guide, and sent to the people with His message.

“And We certainly sent into every nation a messenger, [saying], ‘Worship God and avoid Taghut.’ And among them were those whom God guided, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So, proceed through the earth and observe how was the end of the deniers” (The Holy Qur’an, 16:36).

“And never would your Lord have destroyed the cities until He had sent to their mother a messenger reciting to them Our verses. And We would not destroy the cities except while their people were wrongdoers” (The Holy Qur’an, 28:59).

God’s prophets (‘a) are chosen among the people and in most cases, belong to the people to whom they have been sent to guide. In virtue of being God’s representatives, the prophets (‘a) are the most devout and righteous among the people, even before attaining prophethood. Therefore, they hold the best basic postulates to call the people to a path on which they themselves are pioneers. In addition to their high morals, truthfulness, care and love for all men, Prophets (‘a) have also been bestowed with knowledge, wisdom and miracles from God. They hold the highest knowledge pertaining to the path to God and man’s purpose of creation and are therefore best suited to guide people towards God.

“Certainly, did God confer [great] favour upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.” (The Holy Qur’an, 3:164).

“There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind and merciful.” (The Holy Qur’an, 9:128).

“And what prevented the people from believing when the guidance came to them except that they said, ‘Has God sent a human messenger?’” (The Holy Qur’an, 17:94).

“Say, ‘If there were upon the earth angels walking securely, We would have sent down to them from the heaven an angel [as a] messenger.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 17:95).

Among the qualities of God’s chosen ones are purity of the soul, high morals and lack of self-interest. These qualities prevent them from going astray and permit them to guide others fully. Purity and infallibility13 secure the prophets (‘a) from making mistakes while carrying out their missions and not becoming corrupt. There exist numerous accounts in history of people, who initially hold good intentions and attributes but end up becoming oppressors, oftentimes even becoming the same tyrants they initially fought against. Such circumstances may never befall a prophet (‘a). Moreover, the purity of the prophets (‘a) is a prerequisite for leading others to purity.

“Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know.” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:151).

“Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them to increase, and invoke [God’s blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And God is Hearing and Knowing.” (The Holy Qur’an, 9:103).

The main reason for sending prophets (‘a) is so that they show mankind the way to gain accurate knowledge of God and the forgotten reality. God has, by His mercy and with His wisdom, sent prophets (‘a) to guide the people back to Him and away from negligence and distraction, which prevents them from attaining true felicity.14

“And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam - from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said, ‘Yes, we have testified.’ [This] – lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Indeed, we were of this unaware.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 7:172).

“He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself.” (The Holy Qur’an, 87:14).

“O you who have believed, do not follow the footsteps of Satan. And whoever follows the footsteps of Satan – indeed, he enjoins immorality and wrongdoing. And if not for the favour of God upon you and His mercy, not one of you would have been pure, ever, but God purifies whom He wills, and God is Hearing and Knowing.” (The Holy Qur’an, 24:21).

There is a common mission that permeates through God’s chosen prophets (‘a), pertaining to the fact that all prophets (‘a) and successors follow the same line and communicate the same message.

“Say, [O believers], ‘We have believed in God and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:136).

“And [recall, O People of the Scripture] when God took the covenant of the prophets, [saying], ‘Whatever I give you of the Scripture and wisdom and then there comes to you a messenger confirming what is with you, you [must] believe in him and support him.’ [God] said, ‘Have you acknowledged and taken upon that My commitment?’ They said, ‘We have acknowledged it.’ He said, ‘Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 3:81).

The prophets (‘a) receive the message from God and communicate it forward to the people. Therefore, their obedience is, in part, with God’s obedience in a descendent line. With this, their mission involves communicating God’s message, guiding people to God, judge between them, and directing and leading society to God.

“Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then God sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves. And God guided those who believed to the truth concerning that over which they had differed, by His permission. And God guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:213).

“He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed God; but those who turn away - We have not sent you over them as a guardian.” (The Holy Qur’an, 4:80).

The Last Messenger’s Successors – Imams (‘A)

What happens to leadership after the last Prophet (S)? What does the term Imam mean? Who is referred to as Imam according to the various Muslim orientations? And what do Shias mean by the specific term Imam?

Imagine that you want to reach a destination and ask for an address. The one queried can either point to the target and describe how you can get there or act as a guide and offer you to follow him and accompanies you the whole way until you have reached your destination. The need for a guide to lead the way to the goal is a necessity in itself, but an Imam additionally provides active assistance. In fact, an Imam would lead the one who so desires all the way to the goal to ensure his or her arrival. Therefore, Imamah is both to guide and lead concurrently.15

The word ‘Imam’ in itself refers fundamentally to the one who assumes leadership and leads; essentially, the one that provides directions as well as guides. For instance, both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims call the one leading the prayer ‘imam’, or more precisely ‘imam jama’a’ (leader of the collective prayer), to indicate that the person in question is leading the prayer. The Imam (‘a) as a divinely chosen guide is a comprehensive title for a guide in all aspects of faith and life. The Imam (‘a) is the ultimate giver, interpreter and protector of God’s message; in particular with regard to the complete and ultimate message that God sent with Prophet Muhammad (S).16

God has never left people without guides and has sent His prophets (‘a), one after another, for the guidance of men throughout history.

“And never would your Lord have destroyed the cities until He had sent to their mother a messenger reciting to them Our verses. And We would not destroy the cities except while their people were wrongdoers.” (The Holy Qur’an, 28:59).

Therefore, it is unfeasible that God would leave people without guidance after Prophet Muhammad (S), the seal of the prophets (‘a). Humanity’s need for guidance continues until the Day of Judgment. In other words, as long as humanity and its need for guidance exist, the need for a guide will be incumbent, and God provides for this need. Therefore, there are, and there must be, divine guides even after the Prophet (S), in accordance with God’s promise that no people will be left without a guide.17

The fundamental need for leaders, not the least at a community level, is a matter of course that everyone, both Muslim and non-Muslims, recognizes. The need for leaders in religion as experts to turn to is a factor that both Shias and Sunnis agree upon. There is no divergence of views as to the basic question of the necessity of leaders in various contexts on a general level, whether it be in specific matters or in the especially needed area of social governance. The questions that follow are then; who the leader should be and what qualities should a leader have? And, further, how should the leader be appointed?

In addition to the aforementioned areas of leadership (religious and societal), the Shi’a school, which is based on following the Prophet (S) and his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), indicates the necessity of the third area of leadership; spiritual. This form of leadership aims to lead people to perfect their human essence, namely in the realm of spiritual and moral aspects. A leader, in this context, is a guide who safeguards and nourishes man’s spirituality on the path to reach kamal (perfection) and perfect akhlaq (character/moral). As noted by the Prophet’s (S) words in the famous hadith (narration):

“Surely I have been sent to complete makarim Al-akhlaq (good character) [in mankind]”18

To be able to guide this path and lead people to such spiritual heights, it is necessary that the leader himself is a wayfarer and possesses the highest and most refined and magnificent character traits. God says in this regard in reference to the Prophet (S):

“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.” (The Holy Qur’an, 68:4).

And further, God encourages believers:

“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of God an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day and [who] remembers God often.” (The Holy Qur’an, 33:21).

“Say, ‘Obey God and obey the Messenger; but if you turn away – then upon him is only that [duty] with which he has been charged, and upon you is that with which you have been charged. And if you obey him, you will be [rightly] guided. And there is not upon the Messenger except the [responsibility for] clear notification.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 24:54).

Three Aspects Of Leadership

Accordingly, there are three main aspects of leadership in the Shi’a school of thought:

The political and societal leadership – the first specific meaning of Imam, is precise ‘the leader of society’. All – non-Muslim, along with different Muslim schools – agree on the need for leadership in society. However, the view on the conditions that ought to apply to that leader differs as well as who that leader should be.

The religious leadership – constitutes the second specific meaning of Imam, in which all Muslim schools of thought, as a whole, agree on. However, once again, differences appear in the set conditions by the Shi’a school of thought on the religious leader, particularly in regard to the condition of infallibility.19 As in the previous point, this becomes crucial in the determination and personification of the leader in practice.

The moral and spiritual leadership – the third specific meaning of Imam, is in regard to human spiritual development and elevating the essence of humanity. In view of this, the Shi’a school claim that the leader must be insan kamil (the perfect human being) and be at the height of moral refinement and spiritual elevation in practical terms. Thereby, the insan kamil can be a leader, a guide and a hujja (argument and proof) for other people. In addition to infallibility, this also requires extensive knowledge of the reality of the world, including ghayb (the hidden), and connection with the divine source of truth and wisdom.

An Imam according to Shi’a, is a perfect human being who holds the highest spiritual rank and is fully proficient in religion and all that is required for the well-being of mankind to achieve its aim of creation. It is for this reason that the Imam is the most competent to lead society and humans to perfection in all aspects.

With regard to political leadership, it is clearly supported in both the Qur’an and the Prophet’s (S) sunnah (procedure and approach in word and action). The Qur’an mentions the Prophet’s (S) societal leadership role in both specific contexts such as planning, defence and judgment as well as in more general contexts.

“Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth so you may judge between the people by that which God has shown you. And do not be for the deceitful an advocate.” (The Holy Qur’an, 4:105).

“O you who have believed, obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you should believe in God and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in the result.” (The Holy Qur’an, 4:59).

“Say, [O Muhammad], ‘If you should love God, then follow me, [so] God will love you and forgive you your sins. And God is Forgiving and Merciful.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 3:31).

There are examples of the societal leadership role in the history of other prophets (‘a) as well; more known and prominent examples are the Prophets (‘a) Dawood (‘a) [David], Sulayman (‘a) [Salomo], Moses (‘a) [Muses] and Haroon (‘a) [Aron]. Other prophets have also had similar roles in inspiring revolution and leading the community against their contemporary tyrants.

“One of the women said, ‘O my father, hire him. Indeed, the best one you can hire is strong and the trustworthy.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 28:26).

“And Aaron had already told them before [the return of Moses], ‘O my people, you are only being tested by it, and indeed, your Lord is the Most Merciful, so follow me and obey my order.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 20:90).

Concerning religious leadership, it is clear that the prophets (‘a), as God’s emissaries, are both recipients and mediators, and the first to follow and execute His wahy (revelation). With this role in mind, they constitute the living reference that people turn to in order to receive God’s message. A follow-up question emerges in this context; what happens after the passing of the last Prophet (S)? Who can be deemed qualified for such a role and possess the capacity to complete the mission? It is evident, on the basis of previous arguments presented, that the religious leadership cannot cease after the Prophet’s (S) passing, as the need for it remains. So, who will be the successor?

Likewise, the moral and spiritual leadership remains relevant, and a need after the Prophet’s (S) passing and again begs the question: who is the successor?

It is clear that each prophet (‘a) was the successor to the previous prophet (‘a), as is specified in the verses of the Qur’an and the fact that all the prophets (‘a) were followers of the same line and conveyed a uniform message.20 It is also clearly stated that there could be several prophets (‘a) concurrently, where one had the position of a leader whilst the other was a companion – such as Prophet Loot (‘a) who was the companion of Prophet Ibrahim (‘a).21 It is a matter of the fact that the prophets (‘a) always left a representative or referred to a successor after themselves on the basis of God’s order and that people were never left to their own devices. As illustrated when Prophet Musa (‘a) was to attend God’s meeting on Mount Tur [Sinai], he left his brother Haroon (‘a) as his representative among Bani Israel.22 This again leads us to the question: who has God chosen as successor and leader after His last Prophet (S)?

Why Are Successors Needed?

A question that may arise: why is there a need for a successor after a prophet (‘a)? As it is solely the prophets (‘a) who receive the descended revelation, some claim that this ceases with the prophets (‘a). The argument is used to question whether the message that remains after a prophet (‘a) is sufficient for continuous guidance.

As it has been mentioned before, the need for leadership in various aspects continues to be relevant, if not even more so, after the last Prophet (S). Man is in need of the divine revelation, sent through wahy, in order to reach the goal safely and in the fastest, easiest and best way. Admittedly, man has been blessed with aql (reason, intellect, and mind) and he gains knowledge through experience, but this is, as it has been found, not sufficient.23 Therefore, just as man needs food, drink and housing for his bodily well-being, he needs spiritual nutrition through divine guidance for his spiritual well-being, but also for his physical, social and psychological well-being.

The function of divine revelation may be likened to a manual, sent by the Creator, through a guide, for the guidance of creation. Meanwhile, the guide has the function of an adept instructor, the guiding teacher and the thoughtful trainer. The lack of a guide and instructor explaining and demonstrating the practical application of revelation would be like using a book on theoretical medicine without turning to a doctor! Even the most complete medical book can be misinterpreted unless a medical expert, who has an overview of the subject, interprets the symptoms, understands the connections and applies the knowledge correctly. Similarly, in addition to God’s sent revelation, a pure and expert guide is needed who explains the true meaning and practical implementation of the revelation and carries out its application. In other words, the existence of divinely chosen Imams (‘a) free from defects is necessary alongside the Qur’an. The two go hand in hand and are required together for a correct and complete understanding and interpretation of the revelation.24 The same notion is applicable to the question of leadership for the soul and the community.

F3. The Guides After The Prophet (S)

On the basis of the previous discussion whereby the need for a guide was asserted to be logical and necessary, it follows that there must be divinely chosen guides after the Prophet (S). This is upheld by Qur’anic verses, testifying that all people have been given a guide, as illustrated by historical context and by God’s constant endowment of guides to the people. Therefore, the natural question that leads is: which are these guides that are to guide humanity to God after Prophet Muhammad (S)?

The Prophet (S) has in numerous narrations stated that there are guides after him and even mentioned their number, that they are the Imams (‘a) from his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), and given a specific account of who they are.25 People are commanded by God through the Prophet’s (S) words and actions to follow these Imams (‘a). That is to say, the Imams (‘a) are chosen by God Himself as rightful leaders to continue the prophets’ (‘a) path and protect religion.

Just as the prophets (‘a) have been the most pious, pure, knowledgeable and morally noble among their people and therefore chosen by God to lead the people to their Lord, the same is required of the chosen leaders after the last Prophet (S). Historical accounts attest to the fact that the Imams (‘a) were exceptional among the people of their time in terms of piety, purity, knowledge, insight, and indeed all the noble values.26 This is in view of the religion being the road to human refinement and continuously demands leaders who are pioneers on the road. In order to qualify and be able to lead the people in the best way, these leaders must be at the lowest risk of making mistakes, being distracted, deceived, tempted or falling for their own desires.27

The Prophet (S) announced the Imams (‘a) as successors and leaders after him, in the same manner as the previous prophets (‘a) announced the coming prophets (‘a) and successors as well as the last Prophet (S). And likewise, each Imam (‘a) announced to his people both the Imam (‘a) to follow and the subsequent Imams (‘a), as well as the final Imam (‘aj).

“And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, ‘O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of God to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.’ But when he came to them with clear evidence, they said, ‘This is obvious magic.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 61:6).

One of the Prophet’s (S) well-known companions, who is the narrator of hadith and accepted as an authentic source by both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, is Ibn Abbas. In the case of the Qur’anic verse where each group of people is said to have a guide28, Ibn Abbas says:

“After the revelation of this verse, the Prophet (S) laid his holy hand on his chest and said, “I am the warner” and then pointed to Ali’s (‘a) shoulder and said, “O Ali, you are the guide, and through you, those who are guided will receive true guidance.”29

This has been recounted and narrated in many reliable narrations among Sunni scholars’ own books, on the authority of several different companions, including Imam Ali (‘a) himself, who was the Prophet’s (S) first and foremost companion. The question that emerges is how it can be that, although the Prophet (S) openly and clearly expressed the notion, some insist on denouncing the true meaning of the verse and the historical events in which the Prophet (‘a) proclaimed Imam Ali’s (‘a) position?

Imam Ali (‘a) has also said in accordance with the verse:

“Truly, the earth is not left without a divine representative who stands up with divine evidence and argument, either [while he is] visibly visible or obscurely hidden, so that God’s evidence and the argument are not destroyed.”30

Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) have also, in a comment to the above verse, said:

“Every Imam is the guide of the people in his day.”31

The fact that the earth is not left without a divine guide, either openly and visibly or in obscurity and hidden32 is only confirmable and in agreement with Shi’a Islamic faith.

As the verse states that in every time and for every people there is a guide, and the first of which according to the Prophet (S) is Imam Ali (‘a), the natural follow up question is: who are the others?

Since these guides are chosen by God and exist in every age, it is also by God and through His Prophet (S) that we have been told that the guides are the twelve Imams (‘a). In addition to Imam Ali (‘a), the eleven following Imams (‘a) of Prophet Muhammad (S) are descended through his daughter Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) and Imam Ali (‘a) and are; Imam Al-Hasan (‘a), Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), Imam Al-Baqir (‘a), Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a), Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a), Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a), Imam Al-Jawad (‘a), Imam Al-Hadi (‘a), Imam Al-’Askari (‘a), and the Imam of our time, Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj).33

Accordingly, the Prophet (S) and Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) together with the twelve Imams (‘a) are known as fourteen ma’someen (infallible and sinless ones).

F4. ‘Isma (Infallibility) – Why Is It A Requirement?

It is known that a credible person that represents something must live according to the values of that which he represents. A high ranking official at a company can be taken as an example. Today we know that corporate cultures are very important and carefully created based on values that everyone in the company is aware of. If a high representative of the company at a fair behaves contrary to these values, the spectators will develop distrust against the entire company. How is it then possible for a sacred and faultless message, from a faultless God, which is intended to lead mankind toward its aim of creation, be represented by a man who can do wrong and thereby undermine the whole purpose and meaning of the message? God who holds absolute Wisdom and provides absolute Guidance would never appoint a guide who risks destroying, corrupting, or undermining the reliability of the infallible and holy message presented.

The Imams (‘a) are therefore the foremost among the people across all areas and in all of the goodness. This gives them the authority to be leaders of the people. In this context, a characteristic found in all of God’s chosen leaders, including the Imams (‘a) is distinguishable – namely ‘isma, which means infallibility.

To be free from faults, defects and sins is an essential characteristic of God’s guides, implying that they are neither affected by lustful desires to commit sins nor make mistakes in their tasks. Ordinary people often fall into various weaknesses and traps owing foremost to man’s moral impurities, which take the form of self-love and egocentric desires, or deficiencies in faith, knowledge and will. God’s chosen guides, however, must be protected from such ill vices. They are free from all shortcomings and defects that may, in whatever way, act as a hindrance to God’s message being delivered to people in full.

The guides’ infallibility stems from their strong conviction and knowledge of God and the reality of creation. Infallibility is a necessary trait that provides the greatest opportunity to be able to trust the guides and ensure the accuracy of the message. The necessity of this quality lies in the fact that God’s message, which is to reach people and guide them to Him, must not be corrupted or damaged along the way. Simply put, the source of the revelation, that is God, is without any flaw, and so equally the revelation in which He sends to His servants is flawless. Therefore, the guides must also be flawless, i.e., infallible, in order to ensure that the revelation reaches people fully and correctly.

F5. Derivation Of The Imams (‘A) Infallibility From The Holy Qur’an

The concept of the Imams’ (‘a) infallibility can be derived from several verses of the Holy Qur’an, namely the following verses:

• The verse on Imamah – ‘I am to make you an Imam.’

• The verse on Hadi – ‘For every people there is a guide.’

• The verse on Tathir – ‘God wants to purify you, Ahl Al-Bayt.’

• The verse on Ul ‘ul-amr – ‘Obey God, the messenger and Ul ‘ul-amr (the ones that have been given authority.’

The Verse On Imamah - ‘I Am To Make You An Imam’

When Prophet Ibrahim (‘a), who was already a prophet, overcame a number of difficult trials fruitfully, God told him, ‘I appoint you as an Imam.’34

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands, and he fulfilled them. [God] said, ‘Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people.’ [Abraham] said, ‘And of my descendants?’ [God] said, ‘My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 2:124).

The first point to note in connection with this verse is that Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) was given the position of Imam after successfully overcoming certain trials. Ibrahim (‘a) was already a prophet at the advent of being given the additional status of Imam and leader. This is evident through the verse whereby God specifically states that Ibrahim (‘a) was raised to an Imam after passing the trials given to him. Accordingly, one can derive that the position of Imamah is higher than that of prophethood35 and therefore, like prophethood, necessitates infallibility. This is vital as the mission of an Imam is essentially to preserve, complete and implement the prophetic path.36

The second point is that Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) asked God at the end of the verse if his offspring will be given this position, whereby God replies that it cannot be given to the sinners. That is to say; the verse signifies that God’s covenant of Imamah will not include all, it will only be granted to a selected group of Ibrahim’s (‘a) offspring who do not act unjustly or commit sin. Therefore, through this verse, God concludes that the position of Imamah requires infallibility and the meaning of the verse serves as evidence for the infallibility in God’s chosen Imams.

The Verse On Hadi – ‘For Every People There Is A Guide’

“And those who disbelieved say, ‘Why has a sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?’ You are only a warner, and for every person is a guide.” (The Holy Qur’an, 13:7).

It is clear, through the previously given explanations regarding this verse and the question of guides, that the guides are divinely chosen37. Furthermore, the Prophet (S) proclaimed Imam Ali (‘a) as the first specific guide to whom this verse refers to38, whilst the Imams (‘a) of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) make up the succeeding guides to whom the verse refers to.39

Owing to the fact that no conditions or confining framework in the description of a guide are mentioned in verse, it implies an absolute and complete guide. An absolute and perfect guide, with absolute authority, must be an infallible guide. God does not send someone that risks committing mistakes to guide people.40

The Verse On Tathir– ‘God Wants To Purify You, Ahl Al-Bayt’

“And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance. And establish prayer and give zakah and obey God and His Messenger. God intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.” (The Holy Qur’an, 33:33).

In this verse, it is clear that God purifies Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) from rijs – everything that involves filth and lowliness including unbelief, idolatry, sins, ignorance and lack of knowledge, Shaitan’s access, mistakes, deficiencies, moral decay, oblivion and all other imperfections. Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in this verse refers to the Prophet (S), Imam Ali (‘a), Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), as well as the nine successive Imams (‘a) descended from Imam Al-Husayn (‘a).41 It is clear that they are purified from sin and defects and that their purity has been made perfect by God; being completely cleansed from sin means they are infallible. The Prophet (S) has also said about this:

“My Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and I are free from sins.”42

In regard to this matter, the question usually arises as to who is actually included in Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and who the verse is referring to, as it begins with speaking about the Prophet’s (S) wives.

The beautiful Qur’anic subtlety and the precision of each wording and expression constitutes a clear, brilliant verity for every person who comes into contact with the Qur’an and studies it carefully and thoughtfully, especially for the trained eye and for those who have knowledge of the Arabic language. It is also this precision that sheds light on the question at hand and clarifies its answer.

As mentioned, the beginning of the verse addresses the Prophet’s (S) wives, as is evident from both the explicit address “O Prophet’s wives” declared in the preceding verse and the feminine plural pronouns used in the tathir-verse and its preceding and subsequent verses.43 However, when it comes to the particular part of the verse where Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) is mentioned, and it is stated that God has determined to purify Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), the pronoun suddenly changes into masculine plural form. In the Arabic language, a masculine form is all-encompassing and can include both men and women, unlike the feminine one, which only includes women. Therefore, the question arises; why this change of pronoun?

It is clear that the change from a feminine pronoun at the beginning of the verse to the masculine form in the middle of the verse has a meaning. So, what does it mean? Given that the masculine pronoun can include both men and women while the feminine pronoun can only include women, the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in verse does not refer to the addressed feminine group mentioned earlier in verse. Accordingly, it means that ‘Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)’ refers to a specific group that includes both men and women. So, who are the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)?

Furthermore, these verses, along with others, where a considerable sharper tone is employed44, makes it clear that the Prophet’s (S) wives were not free from committing sins and mistakes. It is owing to this reality and in association with historical events that the injunctions, in these verses and others, specifically address the wives. Consequently, the Prophet’s (S) wives cannot be meant in the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) that are described as being purified from the impurity of sins; particularly not in the absolute sense given in the verse, which in that case leads back to the question of who is included in Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a).

The answer to the question has been given by the Prophet (S) himself. This particular part of the verse was revealed when the Prophet (S) was in a gathering together with his closest household consisting of his daughter Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), her husband, Imam Ali (‘a) and their sons, Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). The Prophet (S) conveyed this revelation repeatedly to the people, and it was reiterated on numerous occasions. By way of example, the Prophet (S) used to gather Imam Ali (‘a), Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) by his side and recite precisely this part of the verse in other’s presence while explicitly stating that this gathering of five constitutes Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). On some occasions, the Prophet (S) even illustrates this by spreading a quilt or cloak over this gathering of five and reciting the same verse, while other people in close proximity, even the Prophet’s (S) wives, are not included.45 The occurrence of this event led to the title ‘ashab Al-Kisa’ to become widely known among the residents of Medina, alongside the title ‘Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)’.

It is also narrated that subsequent to the revelation of the verse, during a period of several months, the Prophet (‘a) stopped daily at Imam Ali (‘a) and Fatimah az-Zahra’’s (‘a) front door and greeted them with the phrase “Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)” so that people nearby could clearly hear it.46

The Verse On Ul ‘Ul-Amr– ‘Obey God, The Messenger And Ul ‘Ul-Amr.’

“O you who have believed, obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you should believe in God and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result” (The Holy Qur’an, 4:59).

In the following verse, God commands believers to obey God and to obey the Prophet (S) and “Ul ‘ul-amr (those who have been given authority).” The command “obey” in this verse indicates absolute and complete obedience as no reservations or conditions for obedience are stated. Furthermore, the obedience to Ul ‘ul-amr accompanies the obedience to the Prophet (S), whose obedience is subordinate to the obedience to God according to the formulation of the verse. Therefore, this command to obey God, the Prophet (S) and Ul ‘ul-amr mean total obedience in all circumstances. The question that arises here is who these Ul ‘ul-amr that must be obeyed unconditionally are?

It is obvious that these Ul ‘ul-amr cannot be any person, even if they are good, as unconditional obedience does not exist for people who can make mistakes. In other words, the unconditional obedience of someone who is not infallible is neither logical nor consistent with the other teachings of Islam. When God, who is infallible, commands His own obedience, and also to the Prophet (S) who is also flawless, and then to a third group, God cannot refer to anything other than infallible guides.

When one of the Prophet’s (S) prominent companions, Jabir Ibn Abdullah Al-Ansari (r.a.), asks the Prophet (S) about which Ul ‘ul-amr the verse is referring to, the Prophet (S) answers:

“They are my successors and the Imams of the Muslims after me, the first of which is Ali Ibn Abu Talib, and after him, in order, Hasan, Husayn, Ali Ibn Al-Husayn [as-Al-Sajjad], Muhammad Ibn Ali [Al-Baqir], Ja’far Ibn Muhammad [as-Sadiq], Musa Ibn Ja’far [Al-Kadhim], Ali Ibn Musa [Al-Ridha], Muhammad Ibn Ali [Al-Jawad], Ali Ibn Muhammad [Al-Hadi], Hasan Ibn Ali [Al-Askari] and Al-Mahdi.”47

This is completely in line with the Prophet’s (S) statement:

“Whoever obeys Ali obeys me, whoever obeys me, obeys God, whoever does not obey Ali does not obey me; whoever disobeys me does not obey God.”48

Chapter 3 – Summary

E3. The main difference between Shi’a and Sunni Islam pertains to the question of Islamic leadership (Imamah)

F. Every time and era, there is a guide, and God never leaves humanity without a guide that can help people achieve their purpose of creation. The guides are the prophets (‘a) and the Imams (‘a).

F1–3. People need guidance. The Prophet (S) has mentioned in many narrations that the guides after him are the Imams (‘a) from Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a).

F4. To be free from error and sin is an attribute found in all of God’s guides. They neither get affected by impious desires to commit sin nor make mistakes in their duties. This is paramount for their reliability and assurance that the message is presented correctly.

F5. Infallibility can be derived from several verses in the Holy Qur’an, amongst which is the verse of Imamah, verse of a guide for every people, the verse of tathir and the verse where God commands the believers to obey Ulo-l-amr.

  • 1. The subject of God’s justice and why it is of essential value, not least in reference to its historical and practical aspects in matters such as man’s free will and so forth, has briefly been touched upon in the book; see C2 and E. The question of ‘Adalah and its practical meaning has long been a prevalent subject of discussion, mainly in the theological and philosophical arena and especially during the first centuries of Islam’s history.

    On the basis of such topic, different lines of thoughts have emerged and given rise to ramifications within the Islamic school. Asha’era and ‘‘Adalahiyya are two main branches that arose primarily as a result of the pertaining discussion. A group called Asha’era and some other Sunni branches became known as Asha’era, while Shi’a and some other Sunni branches like Mu’tazila became known as ‘‘Adalahiyya, based on their main stance on ‘Adalah and divine justice. In broad terms, the Asha’era claimed that justice is not a concept of its own of which God’s actions are in unity with; therefore, they did not consider justice to have an intrinsic reality.

    Such standpoints eventually led to questions of the following nature; whether there is a justice that man can perceive without the need for external instructions and furthermore whether man has a free will. In contrast to ‘‘Adalahiyya who held that ‘Adalah is real and in unity with God’s actions, through this premise it is possible for man to perceive justice and have a free will, within the framework prescribed by God, and thereby is held accountable for his actions on the basis of justice. This is a deeper discussion that needs to be studied more closely by interested parties. For more information, refer to Shahid Mutahhari’s (r.a.) books; see C2.

  • 2. Nu'man Ibn Thabet known as Abu Hanifa – Hanafi school; Malik Ibn Anas – Maliki school; Muhammad Ibn Idris known as Shafe'i – Shafi'i school; and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal – Hanbali school. They were coetaneous with Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a); see W2.
  • 3. There are many narrations regarding this, frequently observed in Sunni sources by Sunni scholars. Amongst them is Abu Hanifa, which has said about Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a): “I have not witnessed a wiser being than Ja’far Ibn Muhammad [as-Sadiq] and he is the most learned amongst the people”. (Siyar A’lam Al-Nobala’ by Shams ad-Din Thahabi volume 6 p.257; and Tarikh Al-Kabir volume 2 p.198-199 hadith 2183).
  • 4. Internal means such as aql (reason, intellect and brain) and the ability to discern and contemplate as well as reflect, and fitra as inner innate guidelines, as well as external means such as prophets (‘a) and their successors. These topics have been covered throughout the book; see B3 and E1.
  • 5. The topic is dealt with in greater detail later in the chapter; see F4.
  • 6. This is raised in various verses, for instance in verse 13:7 in the Holy Qur’an.
  • 7. The whole story of prophet Ibrahim (‘a) is beautifully portrayed in the Holy Qur’an, including this incident which is illustrated mainly in surah as-Saffat (the Holy Qur’an 37:102-112).
  • 8. For a more detailed account of the subject, see to the book Imamah by Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi (HA)
  • 9. The topic of fitra has been dealt with extensively earlier in this book; see B3.
  • 10. The topic of tawhid has been discussed earlier in this book; see A.
  • 11. Read more on this topic in the beginning of the first chapter.
  • 12. This fact is prominent in all God’s chosen prophets (‘a) and Imams (‘a), not least in the superiority of their wisdom and knowledge in all scientific fields, which is briefly touched upon in the subject “Islam and science – no contradiction”: see the end of B1. The Prophet (S) and all the twelve Imams (‘a) were living examples of the efflorescence of human potential and the breadth of its scope and nurtured all who were receptive and had the will to develop. Their closest companions were most often seen as prominent figures in society within various fields. As portrayed during the lifetime of Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a), who lived in a time where science was in focus and was given space to develop. They left a great impression within the scientific fields and nurtured students that ended up having a crucial role in the development of science on a global scale.
  • 13. The topic of infallibility is discussed more extensively further in the chapter; see F3.
  • 14. The topic of fitra has been dealt with previously; see B3.
  • 15. For a more detailed account of the subject, see to the book Imamah by Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi (HA). Online at:
  • 16. Beyond the extensive meaning of the word Imam, the Shi’a use the title as a specific term in reference to the twelve Imams (‘a) of the Prophet’s (S) kin. The instances where the title is followed by (‘a) refers to one of the twelve Imams (‘a), whereby (‘a) stands for “alayhi as-salam” (peace be upon him/her/them). Even the prophet’s daughter, Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) and other prophets (‘a) are given the same greeting when mentioned to pay due respect. Whilst (S) is used for the Prophet (S) and stands for “salla Allah alayhi wa Aalehi wa sallam” (God’s blessings be upon him and his family [Ahl Al-Bait (‘a)]); founded on God’s command in the Holy Qur’an 33:56. Furthermore, (r.a.) stands for “ridhwan-Allah alayh” (may God’s contentment be with him/her/them) and is used in the book for deceased companions or scholars. The abbreviation (HA) stands for “hafedhah-o-Allah” (may God protect him/her/them), used for scholars who are alive.
  • 17. The topic has been dealt with extensively earlier in this chapter; see F.
  • 18. This hadith has been cited in both Sunni and Shi’a sources; including Sunan Al-Kubra of Beyhaqi volume 10 p.323; and Bihar Al-Anwar by Allamah Al-Majlisi volume 68 p.382.
  • 19. The topic of infallibility will be dealt with extensively later in the book; see F3.
  • 20. See sections E2 and H.
  • 21. This is referred to in the Holy Qur’an in 29:26.
  • 22. This event is narrated in several verses in the Holy Qur’an including 7:14. The topic has been discussed in greater detail later in the book in connection with hadith Manzila; see section O and so on.
  • 23. In accordance with man’s potentiality, the conditions that form part of her creation as well as her superficial and profound needs, human reason can be influenced by many factors. This leads to man, despite his ability to discern right from wrong, does not always make the right choice. This topic was touched upon in the first chapter of the book.
  • 24. The Prophet (S) asserts this on numerous occasions, not least in what has been known as hadith ath-Thaqalayn (tradition of the two weighty things)
  • 25. See chapter 4; C1.
  • 26. More of the historical account follows later in the book, in the depiction each Imams’ (‘a) life.
  • 27. The topic has been extensively discussed in the previous section; see F.
  • 28. “And those who disbelieved say, “‘Why has a sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?’ You are only a warner, and for every people is a guide.’” (The Holy Qur’an 13:7).
  • 29. The hadith refers to the Holy Qur’an 13:7. This hadith and its likes are narrated in both Sunni and Shi’a sources, some of which are: Shawahid Al-tanzil by Hakim Al-Haskani volume 2 p.358, 359, 362; Durr Al-Manthur of Suyuti volume 6 p.379; Majma ‘Al-Bayan of Tabarsi volume 10 p.795; Tafsir Kabir by Fakhr Razi volume 19/14; and Al-Mizan of Tabatabai volume 20 p.341; Usul Al-Kafi volume 1/22 chapter the properties of knowledge (sefat Al-elm) hadith 1 et al.
  • 30. This hadith is also narrated in several sources. For more references, refer to one of these sources: Ihqaq ul-Haqq volume 3 p.88-89 and others.
  • 31. The hadith is given in Noor ath-Thaqalayn volume 2 p.482-485. For the hadith and more on the subject, refer to lesson 7 in the book Imamah by Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi.
  • 32. Given the fact that the Prophet (S) and the Imams (‘a) already in their time spoke of an Imam in “occultation” or “concealed” speaks to the fact that it would gain currency and prepared the people by speaking of it. The history that led to this and what was to apply in a time with limited access to the Imams (‘a), especially the final Imam (‘aj), becomes clearer in connection with the history of the Imams (‘a) given later in the book.
  • 33. The Prophet (S) spoke of the twelve Imams (‘a) on numerous occasions and some of his ahadith in this respect is given later in the book, see G5.
  • 34. The topic has been briefly touched upon in section “Qur’anic evidence” for God’s choice of Imams; see F.
  • 35. This is a deep question that has been briefly touched upon in connection with verse [2:124], whereby God clarifies that prophet Ibrahim (‘a), who already is a prophet, is given the position of Imam after overcoming certain trials with success. This implies that the position of Imam required special conditions to be received. For a detailed account on the subject, refer to the book Imamah by Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi.
  • 36. Note that this verse illustrates that a prophet could also get the position of Imam, as in the case of prophet Ibrahim (‘a). Prophet Muhammad (S), as the foremost of God’s servants and the last prophet with the final message, also held both the position of prophet and imam.
  • 37. The subject has been dealt with extensively earlier in the book; see F.
  • 38. This fact can be ascertained from numerous ahadith and in connection with numerous historical events in which the Prophet (S) proclaims God’s choice of Imam (‘a), amongst which is the hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas; see F3. The Prophet’s (S) speech in Ghadir Khumm also declares this fact.
  • 39. See G5.
  • 40. The subject has been dealt with extensively earlier in the book; see F4.
  • 41. This is cited in most Sunni and Shi’a sources including Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, the Sunni Hanbali branch leader, in his book Musnad Ibn Hanbal volume 1, p.331, volume 4, p.197 and volume 6, p.292.
  • 42. This hadith is found in this formulation and other similar ones in several sources including: Dala’el an-Nobowwa by Beyhaqi volume 1, p.171; Imta ‘Al-asthma’ volume 3, p.208; Tafsir ad-Durr Al-Manthoor volume 5, p.377-378.
  • 43. There are several verses, that follow one another, that are of relevance; see the Holy Qur’an, 33:28-34.
  • 44. In the Holy Qur’an 66:1-5, God sharply refers to an event in which two of the Prophet’s (S) wives were, according to the verse, involved in.
  • 45. This event is repeated and narrated by several people, some of whom are the Prophet’s (S) wives including Umm Salama (r.a.); see G4.
  • 46. Depictions of these events and the like are narrated in both Sunni and Shi’a sources, including in several commentary interpretations of the Holy Qur’an where historically related events are mentioned in Jami ‘Al-Bayan’ and ta’wil ayat Al-Qur’an volume 12 of 22 p.6; Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-’adhim by Fakhr Razi volume 9 p. 3131 hadith 17673; Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-’adhim by Ibn Athir volume 3 p. 494; Asbab an-Nozool by Neyshaboori p.295; ad-Durr Al-Manthoor fi at-tafsir Al-ma’hoor by Siyuti volume 6 p.604; Al-Mustadrak’s ala as-Sahihayn volume 2 p.416; and Majma’s Al-Bayan fiafsir Al-Qur’an volume 7 p.559 and volume 8 p.357; Usul Al-Kafi of Kulayni volume 1 p.286-287; Al-Khisal by Sheikh as-Sadooq p.403 hadith 113 and p.580 hadith 1; Al-Amaali by Sheikh Al-Tusi p.368 and p.783; Tafsir Al-Mizan of Allamah Tabatabai volume 16 p.312. Even Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, the leader of the Hanbali branch, one of the four Sunni branches, narrates this in his book Fadhael as-Sahaba (1403 AD) volume 2 p.761, and states that the Prophet (S) repeated this act daily for six months.
  • 47. This and similar ahadith are narrated in several sources including: Yanabi ‘Al-Mawadda by Qandoozi (1416 AD) p.494. For more sources, refer to the book quoted and commentary of the Holy Qur’an.
  • 48. This hadith and similar depictions are found in several sources, some of which are as follows; Kanz Al-Ummal p.614 hadith 32974 and 32977; Mustadrak Al-Hakim volume 3 p.128; and Riyadh Al-Nadira volume 3 p.110.