What is Imamat
Imamat is the fourth basic beliefs of Islam and a component par t of Divine Scheme. The word Imam is derived from an Arabic word, meaning leader. Thus the term Imamat means leadership of certain selected people who were appointed by Allah Subhanahu taala as the successor to the Holy Prophet Muhammed (sws) to continue his mission after his death.
There are 12 Imams, all appointed by Allah and announced by the Holy Prophet (saw). Their names are as follows:
First Imam -Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib
Secound Imam -Hazrat Hasan ibn Ali
Third Imam -Hazrat Hussain ibn Ali.
Fourth Imam -Hazat Zainul Abideen.
Fifth Imam -Hazrat Muhammad Baqar
Sixth Imam -Hazrat Jafar Sadiq
Seventh Imam -Hazrat Musa Kazim
Eight Imam -Hazrat Ali Raza
Ninth Imam -Hazrat Muhammad Taqi
Tenth Imam -Hazrat Ali Naqi
Eleventh Imam -Hazrat Hasan Askari
Twelfth Imam -Hazrat Muhammed Mehdi
All these Imams were appointed by Allah and declared by the Holy Prophet as his successor one after the other. Their duty was to lead the Ummah of the Holy Prophet (Muslim Community) in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah in spiritual, religious, social, and political matters.
All the 12 Imams were infallible, most knowledgeable and exalted persons. They were fully aware of Quran and Hadith and were authorized by the Holy Prophet to interpret it. Thus, the words and actions of all these Imams are also regarded as hadith. Disagreement between Shia and Sunni over the belief of Imamat.
Before we bring this controversial matter under discussion, it is impor tant to know, how to deal with the disputed issues among Muslims. First of all, we should know that, holding dialogues on disputed issues has been encouraged by Islam.
Islam appreciates such dialogues between the adherents of various sects for the following good reasons:
1- To unite all Muslims by reminding them their basic unity of faith. All Muslims believe in one God, follow the Sunnah of one Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (sws), and give credence to one single Divine book, The Holy Quran.
2- To strengthen the institution of brotherhood. The unity of faith will inevitably create a suitable atmosphere of brother hood among Muslim Ummah. This is the basic requirement of intellectual and social development of a progressing nation.
3- To investigate and institute the absolute truth. When there are two or more different views about a par ticular issue then it clearly shows that the truth is ambiguous and certainly unclear. It logically initiates a platform to coordinate sincere efforts to achieve the absolute truth.
The Holy Prophet (sws), who was sent to teach the entire mankind, held dialogues with Christians, Jews and pagans of Makkah.
Allama Abu Mansour ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib Tabarsi, a great alim, has recorded many impor tant dialogues of the Prophet and Imams in his famous book , Al-Ihtiaj. The most famous of this is Mubahila - a dialogue between the Holy Prophet (sws) and Christian missionaries. Thus, the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet (sws) have strongly recommended to establish dialogues and have also taught us, how to hold and conduct such useful meetings.
The golden principle which was taught by Allah (swt) to all His Prophets is :
"Invite [ all ] to the way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue [debate] with them in ways that are best." (16:125) Thus, Muslims should always remember the above mentioned pre-requisite Quranic condition of dialogues whenever they meet to discuss the disputed issues. These pre- requisite conditions can be summarized as follows.
1- The sole intention of arguments must be to invite the people in the way of the Lord.
2- The approach should always be rational, i.e., arguments should be based on Quran, hadith, and established historical facts, unanimously accepted by the concerned groups.
3- The discussion should be carried out in a beautiful manner. There shouldn't be any argument for the sake of arguing or to show any superiority or struggle of winning the battle. The main aim behind the dialogue should be to remove differences and to invite to the way of Allah.
4- All participants should come with full determinations that they will accept the truth.
There is a serious difference of opinion between Sunni and Shia Muslims on the issue of Imamat.
1- Sunnis don't believe in Imamat and do not recognize the 12 Imams as their leaders. Where as Shia consider Imamat as one of the fundamental belief of Islam and recognize all the 12 Imams as the legitimate successors of the Holy Prophet (sws).
2- Sunnis believe in Khilafat as a substitute of Imamat. According to Sunni beliefs, the Holy Prophet did not say anything about his succession or appointed anyone in his lifetime to be his successor. Shia believe that the Holy Prophet nominated Hazrat Ali as his successor and expressed his decision explicitly at several occasion.
There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran, ahadith of the Prophet (sws) and historical events, both in Sunni and Shia authentic books, which are more than enough to enlighten the Muslim Ummah to remove this controversy. But this is possible only if they sincerely wish to resolve the matter rationally and peacefully.
We are discussing the issue briefly in an academic manner just for the sake of understanding and unity of Muslim Ummah. The whole issue of Imamat and Khilafat can be divided into two major par ts.
1- Did the Holy Prophet (sws) appoint anyone as his successor to continue his mission after him or not ?
2 - If he appointed, then whom did he appoint and what was the primary criteria of his appointment ?
First Case - Sunni Standpoint
All Sunni scholars, without any difference of opinion, say that the Holy Prophet did not appoint anyone as his successor nor he left any guidelines regarding his succession. They are also unanimous in believing that the Holy Prophet (sws) never made any nomination in favor of Hazrat Abu Bakr or Omar or Osman or anyone else nor is there any indication of their Khilafat in the Quran or Hadith.
If this is acceptable by all Sunni scholars then it solves 50% of the dispute. Because, if Prophet has not mentioned anyone as his successor then there shouldn't be any resistance from their side to accept anyone as the first Khalifa, whether he be Hazrat Ali (as), or anybody else. In fact, if Quran and Prophet are totally silent on this matter, as Sunnis believe, then the whole belief of Khilafat should not be considered as a religious issue.
In this way, the Khilafat of Hazrats Abu Bakr will simply become a historical event which has no concern with the religious faith. If this is the case, then Sunnis should not accuse Shias, if they do not accept the Khilafat of Hazratr Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman, as they are not rejecting any Divine injunction or religious order.
Thus, from Sunni point of view, even if Hazrat Ali was not appointed by the Prophet as his successor, Shias have the right to accept him as Khalifa in the same way as Sunnis accept Hazrats Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman their Khalifa. Hence, from Sunni standpoint, one can arrive at a conclusion that the issue of Khilafat is not a religious matter, and as it is not a fundamental ar ticle of the Islamic faith, the acceptance or rejection of Khalifas equally makes no difference to the person concerned.
If we do not accept Hazrat Abu Bakr as the legitimate Khalifa, It is just as not recognizing any ruler of a Muslim country. If some people of Pakistan or Iran do not recognize the democratically elected president of their country, it wouldn't be a sin. Thus, Sunnis, according to their own belief, have no right to criticize Shias if they do not recognize the Khalifas which were solely nominated or elected by the people and not appointed by Allah or His messenger.
All Shia scholars strongly believe that The Holy Prophet (sws) had clearly mentioned about his successor in major public meetings. There is a long list of recorded events in histor y which reveal that Prophet did declare the name of his successor.
Thus, from Shia standpoint, if anyone rejects or doesn't recognize the legitimate successor of the Holy Prophet, then it is an open challenge to the authority of the Prophet and a clear defiance of Divine law. This is definitely a grave sin. If someone does it knowingly and deliberately, then he will be ousted from the Muslim community on account of committing Kufr. Is it rational to believe that Prophet did not say anything about his succession ?
Now let's analyze sincerely and rationally the Sunni's standpoint that the Prophet did not say anything about his succession.
Did the Holy Prophet, who had given the Muslim world a written constitution of an ideal government, a perfect curriculum of education, a comprehensive program of dynamic life, ignore the most consequential issue - the issue of succession ?
Did the Holy Prophet not envisage the inevitable crises of leaving a newly established Muslim community, composed of different tribes - Bani Hashim, Bani Umayyaah, Adiyya, Taym, Aws and Khazraj, without a leader?
A man of rational thinking can not digest the Sunni's viewpoint that the Prophet who was preparing his Ummah to deal with confidence all the minor and major problems which they might face in future after his death until the day of Qiyamat, will leave the most impor tant and immediate question of succession untouched and without some prominent guidelines. It is absolutely impossible and beyond imagination that the Prophet who was telling his people all about the events that will happen after their deaths, did not realize himself what would happen after his death if he would not appoint any person as his rightful successor.
History reveals that Hazrat Abu Bakr, who was appointed by his people as the First Khalifa, did not leave the Muslims without clearly mentioning about his successor. It has been reported that while he was on his deathbed, he dictated his will about his successor in clear words which were as follows.
"I appoint Umar bin al-Khattab as commander and ruler over you; pay heed to his words and obey him".
Hazrat Umar, who was appointed by Hazrat Abu Bakr as the second Khalifa, did the same thing before his death. When Umar was fatally stabbed by a person, and he realized that he can not survive, he quickly made a committee of six members and gave them full guidelines about the issue of succession in order to make a successor of his choice.
These two well recorded cases of history reveal that none of the Khalifa allowed the Muslim Ummah to appoint anyone of their choice as Khalifa to rule over them.
If this is the case in which historians have no dispute, then why the Holy Prophet (sws), who was the most responsible person, left a suffocating vacuum after him and didn't appoint anyone and even did not say anything about his successor.
The issue of immediate take over of the government after the death of the Head of State is so important that all countries have a complete guidelines for this to use if it happens. For exapmle, when President Kennedy was shot dead during his state visit in Texas, Vice President Johnson, who was with him, took the oath of the office of the president before the Kennedy's dead body arrived at the airport of Texas from the hospital. At I.00 Kennedy's death was officially declared and at 2.39 p.m., US District Judge Sarah T. Hughes arrived at the Texas airport by a special flight to administrate the oath of office to the new President.
President Johnson took the oath as the new President of the United States in the airplane before take off to Washington.
Thus, it would be impossible to give any acceptable explanation by Sunni scholars to justify their standpoint rationally.
On the contrary, the fact [as Shia believe] is that, the Holy Prophet took the matter of succession as seriously as it was demanded on Divine standard. He informed the Ummah about his plan of succession at many occasions, both formally, and informally, in words and by action, leaving no room for any kind of confusion, or misinterpretation.
It has been resolved by reasonable arguments that the Holy Prophet (sws) has clearly mentioned about his successor. Now the second important part of the discussion is that whom he appointed as his successor. There are numerous ahadith in which Prophet has clearly mentioned the name of his successor who was none other than Hazrat Ali (as). One of the undisputed hadith which is unanimously accepted by all Muslims is as follows;
"Ali holds the same position with me as Haroon did with Musa, except that no prophethood would continue after me".
This hadith is present in Saheeh Bukhari, chapter 14, p 387, and Saheeh Muslim vol. 2, p 278. These two books are the most authentic books of Sunnis. Thus this hadith has been recognized by all Sunni scholars as a true hadith. Official announcement of successor.
The Holy Prophet made a public announcement about his successor in fully official manner while he was returning from his last Hajj i.e., just few months before his death in a gathering of 120,000 Muslims.
This announcement was made in response to the Divine Order revealed to him at the place called Ghadir Khumm. In the Holy Quran, Allah addresses His Messenger:
"O Messenger of Allah, convey to mankind the command that Allah has sent to you. If you do not do so, you will not have conveyed the prophetic message. Allah will protect you from the harm men might cause you." (5:67)
Just after the revelation of Divine Command, The Holy Prophet asked all the Muslim to stop and make appropriate arrangement to make this announcement publicly. After performing the Zohr prayer, The Holy Prophet (sws) stepped towards the pulpit which was placed for him in the middle of the Muslim crowd.
The Holy Prophet (sws) than began his speech by first thanking and praising Allah Subhanahu taala and said:
"O people, I will soon be responding to the call of my Lord and departing from your midst. I will be held to account, as you too will be. Will you not bear witness that there is none worthy of worship other than Allah, the One and Unique?
Do you testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger? Are not paradise, hellfire and death all realities ?
Is it not true the day of requital and resurrection will definitely come, and that Allah will restore to life those who are buried in the ground? Multitude of Muslims gathered there responded with one voice: "Indeed! Ya Rasul Allah ! We bear witness to all what you said".
After this short speech relevant to this message, the Holy Prophet then called Hazrat Ali and focused him in a way that every body could see his shining face and then the Prophet said: "Of whomsoever I am the guardian, Ali is also his guardian.O Allah, love whomsoever who loves Ali, and be the enemy of whomsoever is Ali's enemy."
After completing his speech, the Holy Prophet (sws) requested the audience to convey this message to all those who were not present there. This was a very clear indication that Hazrat Ali is his successor and he will be responsible for every thing in this capacity. This declaration of the Holy Prophet has been recorded in most of the Shia and Sunni authentic books of history and ahadith.
It is also mentioned in history books that, soon after this explicit official declaration of his successorship in favor of Hazrat Ali(as), Umar came to see Ali and offered his congratulation in the following words :
"O Son of Abu Talib : May you be blessed, from now on you have become for ever the Master of every faithful man and women". ( Mishkat vol., P. 122 ) Just after the compliance of Divine Command, the last verse of the Holy Quran was revealed to the Holy Prophet (sws)
"Today I have perfected for you your religion, completed for you My bounty, and chosen Islam for you as religion." (5:3)
According to the renowned historian Al- Yaqubi, "This verse revealed at Ghadir Khumm, was the last verse to be revealed to the Most Noble Messenger of Allah." Thus at this very occasion and at several other different occasions and in many different ways, the Holy Prophet told the Muslim Ummah that Hazrat Ali (as) is his successor.
However, all Sunnis believe that Hazrat Abu Bakar, Umar, Osman and Ali (as) were the Khalifa i.e. successor of the Holy Prophet (sws) one after the other. But all Sunni Scholars without any difference of opinion agree that all these Khalifa were appointed by the public i.e., people of their times and were not nominated by the Holy Prophet. Thus, this kind of Khilafat can not be considered as Khilafat-e- Ilahia, i.e., the vicegerency of God which is bestowed by Allah Himself and could never be the choice of the people.
The Khalifa appointed by the people can be a political leader or a king.
Why Imam must be appointed by Allah and not by the public. As we have mentioned above that there are two different beliefs in Muslims about the successor of the Holy Prophet (sws).
Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr is the successor of the Holy Prophet (sws) and that he was given this position by some people. Then Abu Bakar nominated Omar as his successor before his death. And Omar formed a committee of his choice to elect Osman as his successor. Finally after the assassination of Osman, a large number of people selected Ali as their leader.
Shias strongly believe that Hazrat Ali (as) is the successor of the Holy Prophet (sws) and that he was given this position by Allah. Hazrat Ali was the first Imam and the tr ue successor of the Prophet and then each preceding Imam nominated a new Imam in accordance with the Divine will.
1 - We all know that all Prophets were appointed by Allah and not by public. Just as Allah appointed special persons to convey His message and gave them special powers and talents, the persons who were given the difficult task of continuing the Prophet mission should also be appointed by Allah and not by people's election or selection.
2 - All Prophets are infallible and therefore their successors should also possess this quality. If the successor is not the most capable person after the prophet than he would not be able to interpret the Divine message properly.
Thus Allah knows better who is capable to conduct His mission after the Prophet and people can never elect the right person to guide themselves. In all Universities, Colleges and Schools, teachers are always appointed by the higher board and not by the students.
Thus, Imam or the successor of the Prophet must be appointed by Allah, if people chose their spiritual teacher, as they themselves are spiritually imperfect and inferior, they will commit mistake in their selection and as a result of this wrong selection, the Divine mission will be misinterpreted.
We, therefore, conclude rationally that the successor of the Prophet should be appointed by Allah who should be the most perfect person of all time in all respects in order to guide every person.
History reveals without any doubt that Hazrat Ali was the only person in the whole Muslim Ummah who was the most suitable person to carry out the duties of the successor of the Holy Prophet (sws). What was the basic criteria of the appointment of successor?
Prophet did not appoint Hazrat Ali as his successor because he was his cousin brother, or son-in-law or closest associate. Quran has confirmed that Prophets never do anything by their choice but always obey Allah's command.
Thus, the appointment of Hazrat Ali as the successor of the Holy Prophet and as the first Imam of the entire mankind was made by Allah, the Lord of the universe. It is not difficult to understand why Allah(swt) appointed Hazrat Ali, because Allah's work is always based on wisdom and justice.
The basic criteria of Divine Khilafat is clear from the following verses of the Holy Quran.
1. "And ( remember ) when your Lord said to the angles : " Verily, I am going to place on the earth one that shall be my Deputy, they replied, will You put there one that will do evil and shed blood ....... He ( Allah ) said : I know what you do not know. He (Allah) taught Adam the names of all things and then set them before the angels, saying : tell Me the names of these if what you say be true.
Glory to You, the angels replied, we have no knowledge except that what you have taught us. You alone are wise and Knowing. Then He said to Adam : Inform them of their names, And when Adam had told them of their names, He (Allah) said : Did I not tell you that I know the unseen in the heavens and the earth, and I know what you reveal and what you conceal " (2:30-34)
2. "Have you not thought about the group of the children of Israel after (the death of) Musa, when they said to a Prophet (Samuel) of theirs, Appoint for us a King and we will fight in the way of Allah....."
"And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them, " Indeed Allah has appointed Talut (Saul) as a king over you". They said, "How can he be a king over us when we are fitter than him for the kingdom, and he has not been given enough wealth. He said : Verily Allah has chosen him above you and has increased him abundantly in knowledge and physical strength.. And Allah grants His kingdom to whom He wills, And Allah is All- Sufficient for His creature's needs, All-Knower". (2:247)
From the above three verses of the Holy Quran, we can arrive at the following conclusions:
G Imams and Khalifas are always appointed by Allah, and not by the public.
G Imamat and Khilafat-e-Ilahiaa are such high ranks that even angels are not qualified for that positions.
G Pure Knowledge and powerful physique are the most essential requirements for holding these high ranking positions.
G In no circumstances, the Khalifa or Imam can be the one who had ever been the polytheist. After viewing the above mentioned pre-requisite conditions for the Imamat or Khilafat, one can easily conclude that, no one except Hazrat Ali (as), was the legitimate candidate for the position of the successor of the Holy Prophet (sws), the Khilafat-e- Ilahiaa.
All historian and scholars, both Shia and Sunni, say without any difference of opinion that:
1 - Hazrat Ali was the most knowledgeable person after the Holy Prophet (sws).The hadith, "I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is its Gate." has been recorded by all the traditionalists and historians.
2 - Hazrat Ali (as) was the bravest person in the Prophet's army. History of Islam is full of his great achievements in the battle fields. The victory in the battle of Uhad, Khandaq and Khaybar is accredited solely to him.
3 - Hazrat Ali (as) was the only person who, like the Holy Prophet (sws), never committed Shirk or worshipped idols or prostrated before anyone else other than Allah . His special title Karramallaho wajha means, the one whose forehead never bent in front of any deity, except Allah.
Imamat has been a very controversial issue among Muslims.
Sunnis believe that Holy Prophet did not say anything about his successor and left the world without any declaration or guidelines. Shias say that there are many hadiths of the Holy Prophet which prove that He made an explicit announcement about his successor.
Apart from the many ahadith of the Holy Prophet in this effect, Shias argue, it is a matter of common sense that the Prophet can not ignore such an important issue of succession and leave his Ummah without saying anything about his successor. Appointment of successor to lead the Ummah after his death was his religious and legal obligation, so how can he leave the world without complition of his assignment. Thus declaration of his successor was the part of his official work ?
It is mentioned in all history books that Abu Bakar, and Omar made all necessary arrangements of their choice about their successors before their deaths, then would it not be a matter of serious concern if the Holy Prophet had left this most important issue without any judgment? Thus Shias openly disagree with Sunnis on this issue and strongly believe that the Holy Prophet explicitly mentioned about his successor and he was none other than Hazrat Ali(as), the most exalted person after the Holy Prophet (sws).
Moreover, all Muslim (both Shia and Sunni) scholars agree without any dispute that :
1- Hazrat Ali (as) was the most learned person after the Holy Prophet (sws).
2- Hazrat Ali (as) was the only person after the Holy Prophet (sws) who had never worshipped anyone other than Allah. He is the only one among the companions of the Holy Prophet (sws) who has the title Karram allah-o wajah meaning one whose forehead never bent in front of anyone except Allah.
Thus, Hazrat Ali (as) was the most capable person after the Holy Prophet to lead the Muslim Ummah and to preach the Divine message of Tawheed.