Chapter 4: Shi’a – Definition And Meaning

Questions addressed in this chapter:

What does [the word] Shi’a mean?

Who are the Shi’a and where does the term originate from?

Who are the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)?

Who are the twelve Imams (‘a)?

G. What does Shi’a mean? Where does the term originate from?


The literal meaning of the Arabic term Shi’a is ‘follower, supporter, successor’ and/or ‘companions’. It also means a group of people working together for a goal. Hence, a Shi’a is someone who follows something and is part of a specific group following the same thing. This means that the word Shi’a itself only indicates followership and [in itself] has no direction until it has been linked to whoever is being followed.

Even The Holy Qur’an, defines the word Shi’a as ‘follower’ and ‘successor’. God says in the Holy Qur’an:

“And verily was Abraham once of [the Prophet Noohs (‘a)] Shi’a (followers).” (The Holy Qur’an, 37:83).

In this verse, ‘his Shi’a’ refers to Prophet Ibrahim’s (‘a) succession after Prophet Nooh (‘a). This means that they followed one and the same belief, religion [monotheism], and path. Therefore, Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) was a follower of Prophet Nooh (‘a).

Another verse states:

“And [one day] he entered the city [at noon] when people were unaware [of him], and he found two fighting – one his Shi’a (follower) and the other adversary. His follower complained to Moses against his adversary...!” (The Holy Qur’an, 28:15).

The verse speaks of an incident before Prophet Musa’s (‘a) calling, involving an individual from amongst his people as this individual was part of the followership, as in Bani Israil, who at that time was waiting for the coming of a prophet. Therefore, he is referred to as a Shi’a of Prophet Musa (‘a).

There are also other verses where the term is used to refer to opposite kinds of groups and followers, including:

“Then shall We separate them from [ (Shi’a) followers] groups, those who were most obedient to God, the Compassionate.” (The Holy Qur’an, 19:69).

Hereby, one can clearly see that the word Shi’a in The Holy Qur’an, is used to point out some kind of follower. Whether this following is a good or bad following is determined by who or what it is that is followed.

G1. The Term Shi’a – Shi’a Of Ali (‘A)

When did the Shi’a start getting called Shi’a? Who invented the term Shi’a and started using it to refer to Imam Ali’s (‘a) followers?

Shi’a [as in the Shi’a school and Shi’a Muslims] refers to the original term Shi’ah Ali, meaning, Imam Ali’s (‘a) followers. A Shi’a in the specific sense is the one who believes in Imam Ali’s (‘a) position and Imamah and follows him. This is in accordance with the will of the Prophet (S) and his summon [as found in many authentic traditions] to follow after him, as well as Ali (‘a) and the Imams (‘a) from his family Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a).1

The very term Shi’a of Ali trails back to the Prophet (S), whom on various occasions and in most ahadith called those who believed in Imam Ali’s (‘a) Wilayat and Imamah (divinely appointed leadership and guardianship) as Ali’s Shi’a.2 Shi’a, as a term for Imam Ali’s (‘a) followers, was therefore invented by Prophet Muhammad (S) himself and included both of the Prophet’s (S) own followers who, at the time, obeyed the his commands to love and follow Imam Ali (‘a), and those from future generations who would claim to be Imam Ali’s (‘a), followers.

Today, the term Shi’a generally refers to ithna ‘ashari Shi’a. That is, Twelvers-Shi’a – those who follow the twelve Imams (‘a), whom the Prophet (S) urged Muslims to follow. Shi’a also refers to followers of the Ja’fari School3, named after the sixth Imam (‘a), Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (‘a). Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) had a prominent role in both presenting and extending the Shi’a school’s principles as well as sciences in many different fields, profoundly so. This is due to, amongst other things, the lively debates that were common under that particular period, flourishing with the then prevailing circumstances in society and the opportunity that had arisen during the shift in power between the two dynasties (Umayyads and Abbasids).

Today, there are two main definitions of the term Shi’a – a general and a specific one. Generally, the term Shi’a refers to the followers of the Shi’a school of thought. That is the school of Islam associated with the Prophet (S), Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), and those who love and invoke the followership of Imam Ali (‘a), after that of the Prophet’s (S). Imam Ali’s (‘a) position as the successor of the Prophet’s (S) is, therefore, the main feature of Shi’a Muslim belief. Undoubtedly, many Muslims and believers of other religions are fond of Imam Ali (‘a), although they do not call themselves Shi’a by definition.

Additionally, there is an even more specific definition of being a true Shi’a, according to Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). This definition significantly differentiates mere love from love entwined with following Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). It defines a true Shi’a to be a follower of the Imams (‘a) of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in both words and actions. In other words, living by their example in morals and way of life. According to the Prophet (S) and the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), it is impossible to be a Shi’a of Imam Ali (‘a) [in the true sense of the word] and simultaneously love his enemies or follow their line, course, methods, and behaviours. Imam Ali’s (‘a) treatment and handling of Mu’awiya, who conspired and fought against the Imam (‘a) by wily methods, murdering his companions, exemplifies this. Nevertheless, the Imam (‘a) although aware of Mu’awiya’s shrewdness, never utilised those very methods against him.4 This was due to the Imam’s (‘a) divinely chosen rank as an Imam and leader, carrying out a divine mission. The Imam’s (‘a) mission was to push humanity to perfection continuously and to set an example as such. What would be the difference between Imam Ali’s (‘a) line and that of his enemies’ if he (‘a) were to go about matters by such immoral methods?

With regards to this, Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) has said:

“He lies who claims to love us but does not renounce our enemies!”5

Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) had also spoken of how the followers of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are to be recognized by their deeds and as such stressed the importance that their followers ought not only to preach but practice and live by their teachings:

“Call to God with other than your tongues [through your deeds].”6

G2. The Prophet’s (S) Words On The Shi’a Of Ali (‘A)

The term Shi’a, referring to the followers of Imam Ali (‘a), is no recent invention [of the term]. On the contrary, the Prophet (S) was the one to name Imam Ali’s (‘a) followers Shi’a. Consequently, Shi’a refers to a group, by the orders of God and through the summoning of the Prophet (S), following Imam Ali (‘a) and the Imams (‘a) of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). Countless narrations, including the twenty or more so in the books of Sunni scholars, state the Prophet (S) calling the followers of Imam Ali (‘a),‘Shi’a’.

The following is an example from one of the prominent Sunni scholars’ commentary on the Holy Qur’an, Durr Al-Manthoor of Siyuti, regarding the verse:

“Verily, the faithful who acted righteously is the best of creation.” (The Holy Qur’an, 98:7).

In his commentary, Siyuti quotes a narration from one of the Prophet’s (S) prominent companions, Jaber Ibn Abdullah Ansari (r.a.), who said:

“We were with the Prophet (S) when Ali (‘a) came in. The Holy Prophet (S) said: By God who holds my life in his hand7, this Ali Ibn Abi-Talib and his Shi’a are the saviours on the Day of Judgment (qiyama); and then this verse was revealed in surah Al-Bayyena.” (The Holy Qur’an, 98:7).

Jaber continued saying:

“Since then, whenever Imam Ali (‘a) was seen [from a distance] to be on his way, the Prophet’s (S) companions said: Here comes the best of creations.”

Hence, this hadith was well-known and widespread among the Prophet’s (S) companions, to the extent that when Imam Ali (‘a) was seen from far, they pointed to him and said:

“God’s foremost creation is coming!”8

Siyuti also quoted the following narration from the Prophet (S) who said:

“Ali’s Shi’a are the true victors on the Day of Judgment!”9

Therefore, it is clear from contemporary narrations and depictions, within Sunni as well as Shi’a sources, that the Holy Prophet (S) had given the name Shi’a to the followers of Imam Ali (‘a) and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)!

In reality, the love, devotion, and support of the Shias to Imam Ali (‘a) is based upon the command of God, proclaimed by the Prophet (S). This is done for the purpose of pursuing the Prophet’s (S) guidance in order to be able to reach God. Consequently, if Shias are asked: what do you want to achieve through the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)? Why do you actually turn to the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and insist on following Imam Ali (‘a) and the succeeding Imams (‘a)? The answer will be that the Prophet (S) has commanded us that, after his demise, the way to him, and eventually, God, is through his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). It is the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) who are the custodians of religion10 , and they are divinely chosen to complete the realization of the Prophet’s (S) path, by order of God.

Therefore, it is the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) who can show the way correctly and without risk of error. Obedience to Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in reality means obedience to the Prophet (S) and obedience to the Prophet (S) in reality, means obedience to God. Following the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and obedience to them is, therefore, obedience to God descending directly from God. Shi’a turns towards the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) to reach God through the path that God has shown. Moreover, they [the Shi’a] aim to obey God and His Prophet (S) in this pathway as well. Therefore, the whole point is to submit to God, and the goal is to reach God; that’s the essence of it all. It all revolves around God and nothing else.

G3. Ahl Al-Bayt (‘A) – The Prophet’s (S) Household

What does Ahl Al-Bayt mean? Whom does the term refer to and whom does it include?

Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) usually translates into ‘household’ and literally means ‘the family belonging to the prophetic home’. The term refers to the Prophet’s (S) household and primarily refers to the Prophet (S) himself, Imam Ali (‘a), Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) as well as the nine Imams (‘a) from the progeny of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a).

The position of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) is a very high, God-given, position that in its specific sense, applies to specifically selected individuals. Note that belonging to the prophetic household is not based on a superficial and visible stay or relationship with the Prophet (S). Thus, belonging does not automatically include everyone who lived in the Prophet's (S) home or was related to him.11 Rather, it is based on God's choice of specially selected personalities who belonged to the essence of the prophetic household, lived by its spirit, and realized it. This is in accordance with the Qur'an and authentic stories of both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. On God's order, the Prophet (S) has commanded the people to follow in words and deeds the Imams (‘a) from Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). They are the guarantee that the pure, true teachings of Islam will be protected, preserved and come to the people in part to lead them towards true happiness.

The Two Valuable Things And The Ark Of Salvation

Among many narrations in which the Prophet (S) described the high position of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), there is a narration that is called hadith Thaqalayn. That is the narration of ‘the two valuable things’.12 The Prophet (S) urged Muslims on many occasions to hold on to two valuable things in order to never be misled. The question arises: what are these two valuable things?

These two valuable things are according to the most truthful and most well-documented narrations of both Sunni and Shi’a: The Holy Qur’an, and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). Over the course of history, opponents of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) have tried to minimize the value of these narrations or [they have tried to] overshadow them by spreading various interpretations and ambiguous versions. However, there is no doubt today, with both the well-learned Sunni and Shi’a scholars, that the version with the Qur’an and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) is the most authentic and well-documented version. A high number of companions have narrated this version, and it has been repeated on so many occasions that it is quite impossible to deny its authenticity and importance.

The Prophet (S) has said:

“O, People! Behold! It seems that the time is approaching when I will be called back [by God], and I will answer the call. Behold! I leave among you two valuable things. The first is God’s book in which there are light and guidance... And the second is my Ahl Al-Bayt. I remind you in God’s Name of my Ahl Al-Bayt. I remind you in God’s Name of my Ahl Al-Bayt. I remind you in God’s Name of my Ahl Al-Bayt [three times for emphasis].”13

And in another narration, the Prophet (S) said:

“I leave among you two valuable things; if you hold on to both, then you should not be misled after me. These are, the book of God and my kin, my Ahl Al-Bayt. The Merciful has informed me that these two should not be separated from each other until they come to me at the water source in Paradise.”14

On other occasions, the Prophet (S) has described the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) as the “Ark of Salvation” where those who board the ship are saved. The Prophet (S) said:

“Truly my Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) parable among you is as Nooh’s ark; the one who boards it is saved and the one who leaves it drowns.”15

In conclusion, it can be said that The Holy Qur’an, and the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are the two valuable things that Prophet Muhammad (S) left behind for mankind´s guidance. The Prophet (S) clearly stated that if the Muslims were to follow both of them together, they would not go astray after him, and they will be led to paradise. At the same time, the Prophet (S) has emphasized that those who neglect the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) will get lost.

Therefore, the Shi’a belief in the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and their position, as well as their followership of them as the obvious leaders after the Prophet (S), is solely in pursuit of God’s command in the matter. Since the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) have such an important and central role and are the guides and protectors of faith [as well as the rescuers from getting lost and drowning], it is important to know who the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) is in order to hold on to them and follow them. The Prophet’s (S) teachings are the foundation that has given the Shi’a knowledge of who these leaders are.

G4. Ahl Al-Bayt (‘A) In The Holy Qur’an

There are many divine verses that have been sent down in honour of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) that show their high status, some of which the following:

• The verse on Tathir

• The verse on Mubahala

• The verse on Abrar

• The verse on Mawadda

The Verse On Tathir

The verse on tathir can be translated to the ‘verse of purification’ and speaks of God’s purifying and keeping away impurities and uncleanliness away from the Prophet (S) and his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a):

“God only desires to keep away the uncleanliness from you, O people of the House, and to purify you a thorough purifying.”16 (The Holy Qur’an, 33:33).

All commentators and narrators of hadith agree that this verse is specifically about five people who together are referred to as ashab Al-Kisa’ (The people of the Cloak). So, who were these? And how did they get that title?

It has been narrated from many authentic sources, which are well known in Islamic circles, that the five under the cloak are those whom the verse specifically talks about. This is clearly evidenced in the following narrations:

Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet (S), narrates:

“This verse was revealed in my house when the Prophet, Ali, Fatimah az-Zahra’, Hasan and Husayn were present. The Prophet covered himself and the other four under the cloak he wore and said: ‘O God, these people who are under this mantle are my Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). Keep impurity and uncleanness away from them and make their purity perfect. “I [Umm Salama] asked,” Am I your Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), O God’s Messenger?” And asked to join them under the cloak. The Prophet stopped me, kindly pulled towards him the cloak and said, ‘You’re good too.’”17

It has also been reported from Safiyya, the Prophet’s wife, that Ja’far Ibn Abi Talib said:

“When the Messenger of God noted that a blessing from God would be sent down, he said to Safiyya [one of his wives]: ‘Call on! Call on!’ Safiyya said, ‘Who shall I call on, O God’s Messenger?’ He said, ‘Call on my Ahl Al-Bayt who are Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn.’ So, we sent after them, and they came to him. Then the Prophet (S) spread his cloak over them and raised his hands [to the sky] and said, ‘O God! These are my family so bless Muhammad and his family’; and God, to whom all power and majesty belong, sent down [the verse]: ‘God only desires to keep away the uncleanliness from you, O people of the House, and to purify you a thorough purifying.’”18

These and similar events in which the Prophet (S) has proclaimed this verse and made it clear in both words and deeds that it refers to these five are narrated by the majority of personalities. On several occasions, the Prophet (S) repeated this act and clearly demonstrated to both wives and companions who the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are. The testimony of several of these wives and companions who witnessed the events themselves is portrayed in history and leaves no room for doubt. Who constituted ashab Al-Kisa was a well-known fact. The Prophet (S), Imam Ali (‘a), Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) became known in connection with the tathir verse as the Ahl Al-Bayt.

In addition, hadith Al-Kisa’ that is narrated from the Prophet’s (S) daughter, Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), is her own solid testimony. Likewise, the following hadith from Imam Al-Hasan (‘a):

“I am from the Prophet’s household, for which the angel Jibrail (Gabriel) came down with the revelation. I am from the household that God keeps away from sin and impurity, and whose purity is made perfect.”19

There are additional narrations that show that the Prophet’s (S) household, Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), only referred to these five and no one else in the Prophet’s (S) home. The narrations of the Prophet (S) have included the nine Imams (‘a) from Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) progeny to be included in the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a).20

The Verse On Mubahala

The verse about mubahala refers to a historical event between the Prophet (S) and the Christians of Najran.

History tells us that the leaders of the Christians in Najran had come to the Prophet (S) to discuss Islam, and a long discussion went on about tawhid and the unity of God. Once this group had all their questions answered and ended up with no further questions and counter-arguments, they still found it difficult to accept the clear evidence presented to them. When the parties could not come to a conclusion, it was decided to leave the matter in God’s hands to determine who had the right on their side. They set a time and place for the implementation of the mubahala, that is, where both parties would meet and, before a gathering, ask God to condemn those who did not speak the truth and send His curse upon them. The following verses were revealed regarding this event:

“Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, then say: ‘Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down God’s curse upon the liars.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 3:61).

When this verse was revealed and the day of mubahala was decided, everyone waited with excitement to see who these individuals whom God refers to in the Qur’an as the Prophet’s (S) sons, women and the Prophet’s (S) own nafs (self) were. From the superficial meaning of the verse, it is clear that it speaks of the Prophet’s (S) nearest, but who specifically does the verse refer to? In such a significant and decisive event of this magnitude and the historical effect is created, the choice of individuals says a lot and carries many strong messages. One of these messages is that the selected individuals have the highest and most crucial position. In other words, these must be the closest to having their invocation answered by God with immediate effect. This, in turn, indicates that they must be the most accepted and most loved by God; so, who did the Prophet (S) bring?

The day came, and the Christian leaders who had chosen the most prominent among them stood on one side of the gathering place while a large crowd had gathered to see the mubahala and on whom the curse of God was to be sent upon. All were awaiting the arrival of the Prophet (S) and whom he would bring with him for mubahala. Finally, the Prophet (S) came with his youngest grandson Husayn (‘a) in his arms, holding his oldest grandson Hasan (‘a) by his hand, followed by his daughter Fatimah (‘a) and then by his cousin and son-in-law Ali (‘a) whom the Prophet (S) himself had raised since childhood. The Christian leaders, amazed by sight, asked who these people were who were brought by the Prophet (S). When they found out that it was his two grandchildren, his daughter and his closest companion, they were mesmerized.

The fact that the Prophet (S) had brought his closest family with him and the nearest to him made them speechless and caused their opponents to lose their courage. Who else but one who is completely sure of his cause and is completely convinced that the truth is on his side can, with total peace and serenity, come to a mubahala concerning life and death and bring his most loved ones? It is stated that the leader among the Christian leaders swore that if the mubahala is fulfilled and these five raises their hands to the sky in prayer, it would have fatal consequences and therefore he immediately sent a message to the Prophet (S) to cancel the mubahala dispute.

All historians and scholars fully agree that the mubahala verse was sent down in connection with this historical event and only in honour of the Prophet (S) and his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) who were allowed to accompany him for mubahala on the order of God. Therefore, in practice, the Prophet (S) also demonstrated the meaning of the verse’s references where ‘our sons’ refer to Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), ‘our women’ refers to Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) and ‘ourselves’ refer to The Prophet (S) and Imam Ali (‘a), and it was only these who were brought along with the Prophet (S).

This event, along with the verse that was named after it (the event of mubahala) which eternalized it, came to be widely known in history. Then and now, this living verse continues to draw the attention of Muslims, as well as other people, towards the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and their central role in the God-sent message that the Prophet (S) was commissioned to convey and lead the people too.

The Verses On Abrar

The verses about Abrar (the devout, righteous benefactors) were revealed in Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) honour:

“Verily, the Abrar (righteous) drink of a cup; the mixture of which is [like] camphor” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:5).

“A fountain, where the servants of God drink, flows in abundance [wherever they wish] ” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:6).

“They fulfil [their] (nithr) vows and fear a Day, the chastisement of which is widespread” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:7).

“And they feed [in spite of their own needs], for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:8).

“[Saying]: ‘We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:9).

“We only fear from our Lord a Day, frowningly severe.’” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:10).

These verses were sent down when Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) fell ill at one point during their childhood. The Prophet (S) and his companions passed by their house and found out that the little boys had fallen ill and therefore asked Imam Ali (‘a) to make a nithr – a kind of promise where he, in this case, committed himself to fast for three days for God’s sake for the children’s quicker recovery. As soon as the boys recovered, Imam Ali (‘a) and Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) fulfilled the promise and began fasting.

After the first day of fasting, Imam Ali (‘a), who during that period had a tough, difficult time financially, borrowed some money to buy food with which they could break the fast. The Imam (‘a) bought barley grain that Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) could ground and from it she baked bread. Exactly when they were going to sit down and eat, a poor man knocked on their door and said he was hungry and had nothing to eat. Imam Ali (‘a) gave his bread to him and everyone in the family followed his example. The poor man left joyfully from there, and Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), Imam Ali (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) broke the fast with only water.

The next day they started their fast on an empty stomach, and when it was time again to break the fast, an orphaned child knocked on the door and said he was hungry. Once again, they gave all their food to the child, and while the child walked away happily, the family once again went to bed on an empty stomach. The third day of fasting was even more difficult as they had not eaten for two days and only had water to break the fast with. As the time for breaking the fast approached, Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a) took the remaining portion of the barley grain, grounded them and baked bread from the flour. When this heavenly family sat down to break the fast, a prisoner knocked on the door and said he was hungry. Once again, they gave their food to the needy and went to bed hungry.

In connection with this event, God depicts the actions of these personalities, names them as abrar, reveals the introductory verses in their honour, and speaks of their reward in the next world in the following verses:

“Therefore, God will guard them against the evil of that Day and will grant over them a Light of Realty and a [blissful] joy” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:11).

“And God will reward them for their patience, with a garden and clothes of silk [in Heaven]” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:12).

“Reclining therein upon raised thrones, they will see (find) there neither the severe [heat of] the sun nor the bitter cold [of the moon].” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:13).

After a dozen blessings, God says:

“Verily, this is a reward for you, and your endeavour is accepted and appreciated.” (The Holy Qur’an, 76:22).

The Prophet (S) hurries towards them, recites the revealed verses, and a heavenly meal is sent to them.

The Verse On Mawadda

The verse about mawadda (mutual love [to the Prophet’s (S) Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)]):

“Therefore, does God give tidings to His faithful creatures who have acted righteously. Say, “I do not ask any reward except attachment [ (mawadda) divine love] to my Divine Lights (my rightful successors).” He who shall contribute his mite therein shall find it (to his credit) intensified. Verily God is Forgiving and Appreciative.” (The Holy Qur’an, 42:23).

It is obvious that all the prophets (‘a) and of course, the last Prophet (S) did everything for [the cause of] God. None of the prophets (‘a) has demanded any worldly compensation or reward from the people for their efforts, and they have been commanded by God to be clear about this. For example, Prophet Nooh (‘a) says:

“But if you turn back [and reject the message], I have not asked you for any recompense, my recompense is only upon God, and I am commanded to be of those (who) surrender (unto Him).” (The Holy Qur’an, 10:72).

Even the Prophet (S) did not want any worldly compensation or reward for the message, and all his sacrifices had been solely for the guidance of the people. But God sends His message clearly to the Prophet (S) that there is a requirement for having received this guidance: faithful love and devotion to the Prophet’s (S) kin; whose good effect goes back to the people themselves!

“[O Muhammad] Say: ‘Whatever reward I have asked of you, it is for yourselves [and for your own benefit]; my reward is only with God, and He is witness over all things’.” (The Holy Qur’an, 34:47).

What does this actually mean? After we have received the key to happiness and eternity by receiving the message and its guidance through the Prophet (S), a requirement in return is that people must show a devoted love and affection towards the Prophet’s (S) household, Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a); why? It should be mentioned that God is not in need of anything, and He can supply for His Prophet (S) as well. So what is the purpose of this love, and why is it so important that it is set as a requirement?

One aspect of the answer to these questions lies in the fact that man in his fitra (inner innate nature) is all the more inclined to emulate and obey the one it loves. Love is, therefore, a prerequisite for being a follower. Since the Prophet (S) and his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are the most prominent of God’s servants and the guides to God and true happiness, following them means a practical realization of the message which is human salvation and guidance to God. In other words, this requirement is, in fact, a safety line that itself is connected to God and ensures that people are led all the way through guidance to Him. God says:

“[O Muhammad] Say: ‘I do not ask you a wage for it (my ministry) except for him who wishes to choose a way unto his Lord’.” (The Holy Qur’an, 25:57).

The setting of this requirement also affirms an important principle that God who is Perfect is not in need of anything in return for all the blessings He bestows on human beings. Rather, His commands are in themselves blessings and bring benefits to man’s own good. So, this requirement is also for our own sake and is the means that ensures our success and progress. God says:

“And you do not ask them for any reward for it; it (the Qur’an) is no other than a reminder for all mankind [the people and other creations].” (The Holy Qur’an, 12:104).

Who Then Constitutes The Prophet’s (S) Family?

Ibn Abbas has re-narrated that the Prophet (S) was asked about what the stated mawadda verse speaks of. The Prophet (S) replied:

“They are Ali, Fatimah az-Zahra’ and their two sons.”21

Then the Prophet (S) continued:

“Indeed, God has bestowed the love of my Ahl Al-Bayt as my reward [for the Prophecy], and I will question you all about it on the Day of Judgment.”22

It has also been narrated that Jabir Ibn Abdullah has said:

“One day, a Bedouin came to the Prophet (S) and said, ‘O Muhammad, tell me about Islam so that I may follow it.’ The Prophet (S) replied: ‘You must bear witness that there is no God besides God, who is One, Unique and without a partner and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. “The Bedouin asked the Prophet:” Do you ask anything of me for it? “The Prophet replied,” I ask nothing but love for my kin. “The Bedouin asked: ‘Which kin, yours or mine?’ The Prophet replied, ‘My kin’ The Bedouin said to the Prophet: ‘Give me your hand so that I can testify my alliance to you, and may God’s curse rest on the one who does not love you or your kin. ‘The Prophet answered,’ Amen ‘“23

After all the sacrifices the Prophet (S) went through in order to guide people to complete happiness, nothing is expected in return except one thing: devotional, mutual love and affection for the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). It is this special love which is referred to in the mawadda verse; a love towards Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) that is reflected back to us. This love only becomes complete by following the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in word and deed in accordance with the command of God and that of the Prophet (S). Therefore, this also shows the essential and central role of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), since loving and following the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) leads to God and [according to the verse] becomes the reward of the Prophet (S), which is unlike other prophets (‘a) who are rewarded only through God. It is also beautiful that the Prophet (S), who is most attentive towards people’s guidance [in accordance with God’s testimony], receives precisely the guidance of men as a reward.

G5. ‘Twelve Imams (‘A) From My Offspring.’

There are several authentic narrations in both Sunni and Shi’a sources that the Prophet’s (S) successors are twelve Imams (‘a) who succeed each other until the Day of Judgment.

The following has been narrated from the Prophet (S) who said:

“The Islamic religion will continue with twelve caliphs for you until the Day of Resurrection and all [of them] will be from Quraysh.”

“There will be twelve caliphs for this communion, and all are from Quraysh.”

“The affairs of men will continue to be carried out [well] as long as they are governed by the twelve men.”

“Islam will continue to be successful until there have been twelve caliphs.”24

It is also narrated by Jabir Ibn Samura that:

“I heard the Prophet (S) say, ‘There will be twelve commanders (Amir).’ Then he said a sentence I did not hear. My father said that the Prophet (S) added: ‘They will all be from Quraysh.’25

In another formulation, God’s Messenger (S) uses the word “Imam” instead of “Caliph.” The Prophet (S) has said in this regard:

“The Imams are from Quraysh”

“They will all be from Bani Hashim.”26

As for knowing these Imams (‘a) and the importance of this knowledge, the Prophet (S) has also said:

“Whoever dies without knowing the Imam of his time is like the one who died during jahliyya (time of ignorance - pre-Islamic era)”

An important conclusion that can be drawn from these narrations, which are excluded from Sunni Muslim sources, is that the concept of twelve selected Imams (‘a) is a self-evident and that the Prophet (S) has emphasized this on in numerous occasions is widely known. It is therefore not only something that the Shi’a express, but it is undoubtedly an Islamic concept, while at the same time, previous prophets (‘a) had successors.

Who Are Those Twelve Imams (‘A)?

After examining these clear and authentic narrations whose authenticity all Muslims agree upon, the natural follow-up question becomes: who are these twelve Imams (‘a) after the Prophet (S) who will lead mankind all the way until the Day of Judgment?

If you look at the history of Islam, that description obviously does not fit into the first four caliphs since they were less than twelve. Although some have tried to add the next Umayyad caliphs to fill in the list and solve the problem, they have run into an even bigger problem as it is obvious that this high position cannot be applied to those caliphs because:

They would not be twelve anyhow

• They were tyrants and unjust

• Some of them sinned and went against the rules of Islam and violated its rules openly

• They were not from the Hashemites [Prophet’s (S) tribal branch mentioned in some ahadith]

Likewise, the indication cannot be applied to the Abbasid caliphs for similar reasons:

• They were more than twelve-numbered

• They persecuted and murdered a large number of people, not the least from the Prophet’s (S) family and many of the most righteous persons in society. Meaning, they did not obey the Prophet’s (S) orders or the laws of the Qur’an.

To fill in the list and get the number to twelve imams, some have tried to include well-known tyrants such as Yazid Ibn Mu’awiya and Marwan Ibn Hakam. The indecency and injustice of these people, but above all their public oppression of the people, makes them in no way suitable as a role model, let alone as leaders for the guidance of people. They committed many crimes and ended up in all kinds of wrongdoing and mistakes, which history can testify to. Then you can ask the question; would God send His clear message [for people’s guidance] with His chosen infallible Prophet (S) and then hand over people’s destiny in the hands of such fallible people of lousy character? Some of whom have earned the notoriety of being even among history’s worst tyrants, mass murderers and criminals?

The reason for this unacceptable list of unauthorized people is obvious; it is because of the lack of decent and honest leaders among the power elite in the history of Islam that these names emerge. It is noteworthy that, despite the acknowledgement by Bukhari, Muslim and other prominent Sunni scholars that the Imams are twelve in number, none of the Sunni schools can, of course, answer the question of who these Imams are.

The only ones who can answer the question and name twelve Imams (‘a) as leaders, without any hesitancy and beyond all doubt, is the Shi’a ithna ‘ashari school (Shi’a Twelvers). These Imams (‘a) have, in words and deeds, repeatedly proved to be worthy of this divine position that God has chosen for them. By following the Prophet’s (S) and Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) summoning, the Shi’a have been given clear instructions on who these twelve Imams (‘a) of the Prophet’s (S) kin are. Therefore, the Prophet (S) has given clear instructions in this regard, both in its entirety and more specifically, who the Imams (‘a) after he is. Furthermore, his Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), one after the other, have provided clear instructions on whomever the next Imam (‘a) would be.

Among them, it has been reported that the Prophet (S) was asked at one time about who would succeed him; the Prophet (S) said:

“After me, Ali Ibn Abi Talib and then my two sons Hasan and Husayn, and after Husayn, there are nine Imams from his offspring.”

Then the inquiring asked the Prophet (S) to name these, to which the Prophet (S) replied:

“When Husayn leaves this world, it is his son Ali, and after him, his son Muhammad and after Muhammad, his son Ja’far and after Ja’far, his son Musa and after Musa, his son Ali and after Ali, his son Muhammad and after Muhammad his son Ali, and after Ali his son Hasan and after Hasan his son Muhammad Al-Mahdi. These are the twelve Imams.”

The Prophet (S) also said:

“The Imams after me are twelve; the first is Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and the last is Al-Qa’im [Imam Al-Mahdi]. To obey them is to obey me and to show disobedience to them is to show disobedience to me. Whoever denies them has denied me.”

Abu Dharr has narrated the Prophet (S) saying:

“The Imams after me are twelve; nine of them are from Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) progeny and the ninth is Al-Qa’im [ (the riser) Imam Al-Mahdi]. Be aware that the twelve Imams are among you as Noah’s ark, the one who goes aboard will be saved (salvaged) and the one who does not [aboard] will perish.”27

Chapter 4 – Summary

G. The literal meaning of the Arabic word Shi’a is ‘followers’ or ‘supporters’. Originally it is Shi’a of Ali (‘a), or ‘Ali’s followers’ that is referred to when speaking of Shi’a Muslims.

The Holy Qur’an, defines the word Shi’a as ‘follower/supporter’, where two examples are how Ibrahim (‘a) is referred to as Nooh’s (‘a) Shi’a [see The Holy Qur’an, 37:83] and a believer is called Musa’s (‘a) Shi’a [see The Holy Qur’an, 28:15].

G1-2. The Prophet (S) himself called Imam Ali’s (‘a) followers Shi’a and called them the ‘true victors on the Day of Judgment’.

G3. Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) can be translated into “the household” and more specifically, it refers to the Prophet’s (S) specifically chosen household. The Holy Qur’an, and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) are the two valuable things that the Prophet Muhammad (S) left behind for human guidance, and he clearly stated that if the Muslims follow both of them together, then they will not get astray after him, and they will be led to paradise.

G4. Some Qur’anic verses that testify to the high position of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) include the verses on Tathir, the verses on Mubahala, the verses on Abrar and the verses on Mawadda. These verses that relate to both historical events and narrations from the Prophet (S) clearly show the essential and central role that Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) have played in the completion of the message of God that the Prophet (S) declared.

G5. There are numerous authentic narrations in both Sunni and Shi’a sources that the Prophet’s (S) successors from his kin are twelve. They succeed each other until the Day of Judgment. Through the Prophet (S) and also through the Imams (‘a) who reminded who their successor is, we know that these Imams (‘a) are in the following order: Imam Ali (‘a), 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 Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj).

  • 1. The Prophet (S) declares and emphasizes the position of Imam Ali (‘a) in many contexts, already with the start of his prophecy to his last pilgrimage and more specifically his farewell sermon in Ghadir Khumm, to the last breath of his holy life; see I. What is quoted in the present book provides the reader with only a historical overview and wholeness, and in fact constitutes only a fraction of the Prophet’s (S) proclamations and, above all, the most historically known events. For the interested seeker, each of these events, and many more, are a starting point and a current that leads to the ocean.
  • 2. The Prophet (S) uses the term consistently; see G2.
  • 3. The Ja’fari school is named after Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (‘a), the 6th Imam (‘a). This is because many of the basic principles and positions of the Shi’a school were highlighted and clarified during Imam Al-Sadiq’s (‘a) time again. The transition period for the contemporary shift in political power had left a relatively open space for the emergence of in-depth discussions and various debates, not least on issues of faith and science, which had led to the emergence of different thought orientations and branches of faith. During this period, Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) and Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) made sure to teach and educate many students in both religious and scientific fields; see W.
  • 4. The examples are numerous, none of which can be seen in the Imam’s (‘a) actions during the wars waged against him, including in the “Battle of Siffin”; see R.
  • 5. This is one among many ahadith with similar messages that Ahl Al-Bait (‘a) educate their followers with. The following hadith is found in the book Bihar Al-Anwar volume 27 p.58.
  • 6. This elementary message is evident from the majority of ahadith, including this hadith found in Usul Al-Kafi volume 2 p.78.
  • 7. The term is used as a symbol of God’s power and will, as hand in the Arabic language symbolizes power. So, it is not a question about a physical hand.
  • 8. The Hadith is narrated in several sources, including: Tafsir Durr Al-Manthoor of Siyuti volume 6 p. 379; Al-Sawa’iq Al-Muhriqa by Ibn Hijr p. 96; Tafsir Rooh Al-Ma’ani by Aloosi volume 30 p. 207; Tafsir Jami ‘Al-Bayan of Tabari volume 30 p. 265 et al.
  • 9. For source see previous note; as well as Yanabi 'Al-Mawadda by Qundoozi Al-Hanafi's 62 et al.
  • 10. A well-known ziyara (salutatory prayer) from Imam Al-Hadi (‘a), called Ziyarat Jami’a Kabira, describes Ahl Al-Bait (‘a) as the household of the prophetic message and the custodians of the religion and the sources of knowledge.
  • 11. The issue has been dealt with in various parts of the book, including in connection with the "Tathir verse"; see F. Note that freedom of error is a condition for divinely chosen leadership as it is the question of the divine message that must be preserved and passed on to humanity. The Prophet's (S) wives and other companions were not infallibles of the Qur'an's rectifying views.
  • 12. The Prophet (S) highlights this in a lengthy speech he held at Ghadir Khumm in connection with his farewell pilgrimage to Mecca, where he officially and publicly announced Imam Ali (‘a) as his successor to the large crowd that had pilgrimaged with him. The meaning of the hadith, as well as the fact that Imam Ali (‘a) was the Prophet’s (S) caliph and successor, on several occasions and in connection with various events, the Prophet (S) had announced this in different forms, both in words and in action. Many examples have been cited throughout the book.
  • 13. The Prophet’s (S) annunciation is recorded in many sources including: Sahih Muslim (1980) Chapter of the Virtues of the Companions, Section of the Virtues of ‘Ali, v4, p. 1286, Tradition # 5920 - English Edition Printed in Saudi Arabia and Arabic Edition Volume 4 p. 1873 hadith 36; and other collections such as Sahih Al-Tirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad.
  • 14. Sahih Al-Tirmidhi volume 5 p. 662-663,328 - reported by 30+ companions with reference to several stages in the narrator chain; Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim chapter “Understanding (the virtues) of Companions” volume 3 p. 109,110,148,533 - Al-Hakim has stated that the hadith is authentic (Sahih) in agreement to the two Sheikhs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) criteria; Sunan by Daarami volume 2 s 432; Musnad by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal volume 3 p. 14,17,26,59 and volume 4 p. 366,370-372 and volume 5 p. 182, 189, 350, 366, 419; Fadha’il Al-Sahaba by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal volume 2 p. 585 hadith 990; Al-Khasa’is by Al-Nisa’i p. 21.30; Al-Sawa’iq Al-Muhriqa by Ibn Hajar Haythami Chapter 11 section 1 p. 230; Al-Kabir by Al-Tabarani volume 3 pp. 62-63,137 ; Kanz Al-Ummal by Al-Muttaqi Al-Hindi chapter Al-Iti’sam bi Habl Allah volume 1 p. 44; Tafsir Ibn Kathir (complete version) volume 4 p. 113 on the commentary on verse 42:23 of the Qur’an (four ahadith) ; Tabaqat Al-Kubra by Ibn Sa’d volume 2 p. 194 published by Dar Isadder, Lebanon.

    Al-Jami ‘Al-Saghir by Al-Suyuti volume 1 p. 353 and also in volume 2; Majma’ Al-Zawa’id by Al-Haythami volume 9 p. 163; Al-Fateh Al-Kabir by Al-Binhani volume 1 p. 451; Usdul Ghabah in Ma’rifat Al-Sahaba by Ibn Al-Athir volume 2 p. 12; Jami ‘Al-Usul by Ibn Al-Athir volume 1 p. 187; History of Ibn Asakir volume 5 p. 436; Al-Taj Al-Jami’s Lil Usul volume 3 p. 308; Al-Durr Al-Manthoor by Al-Hafidh Al-Suyuti volume 2 p. 60; Yanabi Al-Mawadda by Al-Qundoozi Al-Hanafi’s 38,183; Abaqat Al-Anwar volume 1 p. 16 et al. Most references are from English editions. Note, however, that some ahadith may have been moved or removed from later editions.

  • 15. Yet another hadith which is narrated through about 50 different narrative chains and hence is counted to the acknowledged ahadith found in many sources including; Al-Mustadrak (1411 AD) by Hakum Neyshaboori volume 2 p. 273; Mafatih Al-Ghayb (1420 AD) by Fakherddin Razi volume 27 p. 596; Al-Sawa’iq Al-Muhriqa (1417 AD) by Ibn Hajar Haythami volume 2 pp. 445-446; Al-Manaqeb by Ibn Maghazeli’s 148; Tarikh Baghdad (1417 AD) by Khatib Al-Baghdadi volume 12 p. 90; Jawahir Al-’eqdayn (1405 AD) volume 2 p. 126; Al-Amali (1414 AD) by Sheikh Al-Tusi’s 633; Al-Ihtijaj (1403 AD) of Tabarsi Volume 1 p. 273 et al.
  • 16. The entire verse and the specific and exclusive emphasis on Ahl Al-Bait (‘a) in its last part, including from a linguistic perspective, have been extensively discussed earlier in the book; see F4.
  • 17. This hadith is narrated and several similar ones are narrated in many sources, not least in several commentary interpretations of the Holy Qur’an, including Jami ‘Al-Bayan fi tafsir Al-Qoran by Tabari volume 22 p. 5; and the book Sunan at- Tarmothi (published 1403 AD) volume 5 p. 699; Al-Fosool Al-Mukhtara by Sharif Al-Murtadha’s 53 et al.
  • 18. This hadith is narrated in several sources including Al-Mustadrak by Al-Hakim, the chapter on “Understanding the Virtues of Companions” volume 3 p. 148, where the author stated: “This hadith is authentic (Sahih) based on the criteria of the two sheikhs (Bukhari and Muslim). “; Talkhis Al-Mustadrak by Thahabi volume 3 p. 148; Asad Al-Ghaba by Ibn Athir volume 3 p. 33. Although the majority of the depictions show that the last part of verse 33:33 was revealed in Umm Salama’s house, it does not exclude that it may also have been revealed in Safiyya’s house. Based on the opinions of Sunni scholars, including Ibn Hijr, the revelation of the same verse on more than one occasion and the Prophet’s (S) delivery of it several times are both completely possible and not uncommon.
  • 19. This hadith and similar narrations are narrated in several sources, including in connection with commentary interpretations of the verses in commentary interpretation books available for the Holy Qur’an; inter alia Tafsir Al-Qur’an by Ibn Kathir (published 1419 AD) volume 6 p. 371 et al.
  • 20. Some of these ahadith have been narrated later in the book; see G5.
  • 21. This hadith and similar ahadith are narrated in most commentary interpretations of the Holy Qur’an in connection with comments on the verse, including Tafsir Noor ath-Thaqalayn volume 5 pp. 570-578. These ahadith are also narrated in other sources including in Shawahed at-Tanzil by Hakim Haskani volume 2 p. 189–196; Rawdhat Al-Kafi of Kulayni’s 134 hadith 66 with Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s portrayal and others.
  • 22. This hadith and a similar hadith are narrated in Thakhaer Al-Uqba by Tabari p. 26 et al.
  • 23. Many narrations with the same meaning are narrated in the majority of prominent sources including Dorr Al-Manthoor of Suyuti volume 6 p. 7; Jami ‘Al-Bayan of Tabari volume 25 p. 14; Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal volume 1 s 199 et al.; See also Note 105.
  • 24. This hadith has been narated, among other things, in Sahih Muslim (Arabic edition published 1980 AD) Kitab Al-Imaara volume 3 p. 1453 hadither 6, 7, 10 and others; and Sahih Muslim (English edition) Chapter 754 entitled: “The People Are Subordinate to the Quraysh and the Caliphate is the Right of the Quraysh” volume 3 p. 1010 ahadith 4478, 4480, 4483m.fl.
  • 25. This hadith and the like have been narrated, among other things in Sahih Al-Bukhari hadith 9329 et al.
  • 26. This hadith and the like have been narrated, among other things in Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim volume 3 p 149; Al-Sawa’iq Al-Muhriqa by Ibn Hijr Al-Haithami Chapter 11 section 2 p 287; and in books such as Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Sahih an- Nisa’i, Sunan Al-Beyhaqi et al.
  • 27. These ahadith and the like with the same meaning are numerous in Islamic sources and hadith collections. Some of them are assembled in Yanabi ‘Al-Mawadda’s 431; Al-I’tiqadat by Sheikh Sadooq p. 104; Al-Saduq, ‘Uyoon Akhbar Al-Ridha volume 2 p. 62; Ghayat Al-Maram of Al-Bahrani volume 3 p. 22 et al.