Shi’i Concept of Imaamat Explained

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Q: I came across your website and it made for interesting reading on how you knowingly or unknowingly incite hatred amongst the Muslim ummah. The book in question, “The Faith of Shia Islam”, clearly states the lesser stature of the Imams of the Shia faith as compared to the Prophet in the very sentence that you chose to quote incorrectly.

A: It is most distressing and unfortunate that you have elected to perceive our presentation of the Shi‘i concept of Imamah in comparison with Nubuwwah as hate mongering.

It has to be candidly admitted that your pejorative characterization of our presentation would have been quite truthful and accurate had it been based solely on the extract from the book “The Faith of Shia Islam” and on nothing else. But the reality of the situation is quite different for those whose knowledge of Shi‘ism extends further than one or two contemporary booklets. Anyone interested in knowing exactly what position Twelver Shi‘ism holds on a particular point of law or theology — and that includes yourself — would be infinitely better advised to consult the classical legacy of the Shi‘ah, and not just draw semantical conclusions from one or two contemporary sources of diminutive status and negligible importance.

In your own case, it seems that you too, have not had adequate exposure to the classical literature of your sect. It appears that it is this ineptitude that has led you into a condemnation of our description of Imamah as being superior to Nubuwwah in the belief structure of the Shi‘ah.

For your information and empowerment we therefore present you with the following citations from recognized works by celebrated scholars from within your own classical legacy. We hope that your misgivings will have been satisfactorily accounted for.

1. Shaykh Ni‘matullah al-Jaza’iri (died 1112 AH) writes in his book al-Anwar al-Nu‘maniyyah vol. 1 p. 20: “Know that there is no difference amongst our scholars about the superiority of our Prophet (upon and him and his family be peace) over all the other Prophets (peace be upon them), on account of multiple narrations. There does however exist a difference of opinion between them on the issue of whether Amir al-Mu’minin (‘Ali) and the Pure Imams are superior to the Prophets with the exclusion of their grandfather (upon him and his family be peace). One group holds the view that they are superior to all the Prophets excluding the Ulul ‘Azm (Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, and ‘Isa). Another group holds the position that they are equal. But most of the latter scholars believe that the Imams (peace be upon them) are superior to all the Prophets, the Ulul ‘Azm included. This view is the correct one, and it is based upon the following proofs.”

Al-Jaza’iri then goes on to cite twelve sections of proofs, every section consisting of narrations from the Imams in the books of the Shi‘ah, covering 15 pages in all. You may view these proofs in al-Anwar al-Nu‘maniyyah vol. 1 pp. 20-35. After reading them I invite you to reconsider these words of yours, and to consider whether it applies more aptly to us or yourself: “I wish you would stop the hate mongering and use your head instead. If you can’t be truthful to the readers… at least be truthful to yourself. You think by writing lies about someone those lies will become truths? Allah knows best what is right and what is wrong.”

2. Al-Jaza’iri’s teacher was the famous Mulla Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (died 1111 AH), the most prominent and influential Shi‘i scholar of the Safawid empire. He writes in his monumental Bihar al-Anwar vol. 26 p. 83:

“On the whole, after admission of the fact that the Imams are not prophets, we are bound to acknowledge the fact that they are superior to all Prophets and Awsiya (legatees) except our Prophet (salutations and peace upon him and his family). To our knowledge there is no reason not to describe the Imams as Prophets except consideration to the status of the Final Prophet. Our intellect too, cannot perceive of a distinction between Nubuwwah (prophethood) and Imamah.”

I would also draw your attention to the fact that al-Majlisi has included a chapter in the aforementioned book entitled “The Superiority of the Imams over the Prophets and al Creation”. In this chapter, which runs from page 267 to page 318 in volume 26 of Bihar al-Anwar, he has enumerated a full 88 ahadith of the Imams as proof of their superiority. You are once again urged to study these ahadith of your Imams and the conclusions drawn from them by your scholars, after which we invite you to consider whom it is who knowingly or unknowingly incites hatred amongst the Muslim Ummah.

3. And should you contend that these were the views of ancient scholars that are no longer held by Shi‘i scholars today, then I invite you to read the book al-Hukumat al-Islamiyyah by Imam Khomeini himself, wherein he states:

“It is of the undeniable tenets of our faith that our Imams have a status with Allah that cannot be aspired to by anyone, neither an angel nor a prophet.”

We sincerely hope to hear from you again.

Shaykh M Taha Karaan
MADRASAH AL-ARABIYYAH AL-ISLAAMIYYAH, Western Cape (SA)