“And We made them Imams who guided (people) by Our command, and We revealed to them the doing of good and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of the alms, and Us (alone) did they serve.”
The second part of history deals with the lives of the Infallible Imams (a.s.). Before commencing their biographies, it will be appropriate to know their status and position in Islam. Recognition of their position is the cause of true obedience to them.
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had prophesied about his successors and their aim thus: For every generation of my nation, there will be just men from my Ahle Bait who will cleanse the religion from distortion of the astrayed ones, conspiracy of frustrated ones and interpretation of the ignorant. Know you that these leaders will take you towards Allah. Therefore see as to whom you have chosen as your leader before Allah.
While describing obedience to the Holy Imams (a.s.), he (s.a.w.a.) advised: And neither go ahead of them for you will be destroyed nor neglect them for you will be destroyed. Also, do not try to teach them because they are much more learned than you.
Such repeated exhortations of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) underline the importance of Imamat.
What is Imamat?
One of the noteworthy features of Islam is that in all matters, along with ideological concepts, it also gives practical examples. By providing for a practical teacher, it simplifies for its followers the process of learning. Practical actions have deeper impact than theoretical lessons. The Holy Quran has introduced Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as a trainer: Thus it is due to the mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently and had you been rough, hardhearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you, pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them and take counsel with them in the affair, so when you have decided then place your trust in Allah, surely Allah loves those who trust
Thus, Imamat means a practical Islamic school in which all the contents of the text have been crystallized. In other words, Imam is an ‘Embodied Quran’.
The responsibility of Imams (a.s.) is similar to the responsibilities of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) of being a gentle teacher and trainer, who has the task of guiding and leading the Islamic society, teaching them Quran and training them.
Imam Reza (a.s.) has explained in a lucid way the meaning of Imamat and position and status of an Imam. The following are some of the words of Imam (a.s.) in this regard: Surely, the Imamat is the vicegerency of Allah and the vicegerency of Messenger (s.a.w.a.) and station of Ameerul Momeneen and the inheritance of Hasan and Husain (a.s.).
Surely, the Imamat is the rein of Islam and the order of the Muslims.
Surely, the Imamat is Islam’s growing root and lofty branches.
Surely, Imamat is too sublime among values, too great among ranks, too high among stations, too impregnable on all sides and too profound in depths for people to reach it with their intelligence or grasp it with their opinions or establish an Imam by their choice.
Who is an Imam?
Imam is a personality that cannot be separated from Islam. The following words of Imam Reza (a.s.) describes the lofty position of an Imam.
Imam is a fire on the heights (light-house), warms those who seek the heat and an indicator in dangers. He who moves away from him will perish.
Imam is a gentle and close friend, a sympathetic father, an equal brother and a mother who is tender to her infant and a place of refuge for mankind from perilous disasters.
The Imam … is a caller towards Allah and the defender of Allah’s precincts, the system of religion, the might of Muslims, the wrath on the hypocrites and the doom of unbelievers.
The Imam is a man of knowledge, he is not ignorant (of anything), a shepherd who does not shirk (his duty), a man of sanctity, purity, piety, renunciation, knowledge and worship.
The Imam is… the one who establishes the affair of Allah, to whom belongs Might and Majesty; he is the sincere advisor of the slaves of Allah, the protector of the religion of Allah
The above traditions clearly bring out the importance of Imamat. Of course, there are many more quotes of the infallible guides that speak of loftier and higher positions of Imams (a.s.). (For details, one can refer to the books of traditions like Behaar al-Anwaar of Allamah Majlisi (r.a.), volumes 23-27 and deliberate on the meanings of Ziyaaraat like Jaameáh Kabeerah).
After acquainting ourselves with the position of Imamat, let us look at some of the instances wherein the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) introduced his (s.a.w.a.) successors.
Imams are like the chieftains of Bani Israel i.e. 12 in number
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: There will be twelve successors after me, whose number will be equal to that of the chieftains of Bani Israel.
Imams will be from Quraish
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: There will be twelve successors after me who will all be from Quraish.
Islam will continue till Imamat and Khilafat continue.
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: This religion will remain up to the day till twelve leaders from Quraish rule over it. Then when they are no more, the earth will be destroyed with all its inhabitants.
Both Shia as well Sunni scholars have narrated numerous traditions in their books mentioning the names of the twelve successors of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
Seqatul Islam, Sheikh-e-Kulyani (a.r.) in his book ‘Al-Kaafi’ has produced a lengthy tradition named ‘Hadees-e-Lauh’. This tradition has been narrated by Jabir Ibn Abdullah-e-Ansari, a famous companion of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Lauh was a green tablet gifted by Allah, the Almighty, to Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who in turn presented it to Hazrat Fatema (s.a.) on the occasion of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) birthday. It contained the names of Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) successors with their special attributes.
All the Imams have one method
The Imamat of Ahle Bait (a.s.) commenced after the expiry of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and is still continuing. However, we see some unaware and feeble-minded people tend to have different opinions about different Imams whereas we find Imam Ali (a.s.) saying: We are equal in knowledge and courage and in bestowing (either knowledge or wealth) to the extent we are commanded.
Similarly, regarding the uniformity of the ways of the Imams (a.s.), Imam Sadiq (a.s.) narrates from Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.): We tread a single path with regards to command, understanding, lawful and unlawful.
Imams (a.s.) are ‘Embodied Quran’ and thus possessors of perfect qualities of a believer. Therefore, each one of them displayed their related qualities according to the different situations and requirements of their times. They reflected the qualities of warrior, true believer, worshipper, diligence, patience at times of hardships and misfortunes, generosity, high morals and charity whenever the situation demanded so. They were constantly manifesting their luminous qualities in the work and efforts.
They were acting on the principle of ‘Being aware of the situation and time’. We find the difference in the situation of Imam Ali (a.s.) and Imam Sadiq (a.s.) – one was a ruler while the other was engaged in imparting knowledge. The situation was different during their respective eras. But this difference does not prove any contradiction in their behaviour. On the contrary, it is a lesson for the Muslims to act according to the situation and time and derive maximum benefit of the situation in achieving their aim. In this way, Muslims should protect and propagate their religion.
People’s Role in supporting Imams (a.s.)
An Imam has been entrusted with the task of leading and ruling the people. He brings prosperity and salvation to the people. However, the above responsibility of the Imams (a.s.) depends upon the support of the people. If the Imam is not having well-prepared and self-sacrificing followers, then he will not pursue his aim. Imams (a.s.) want to spread and establish Islam in a normal way. Generally, they do not use miracles for the purpose of achieving their aims. Hazrat Fatema (s.a.) narrates from Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that: An Imam is like the Kaaba. People have to go to him. He will not go to people.
About the support of the people to Imam (a.s.), Ameerul Momineen Ali (a.s.) says: By Him, who splits the grain (to grow) and created living beings, if people had not come to me and supporters had not exhausted the arguments and if there had been no pledge of Allah with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiescence in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cursed the rope of Khilafat on its own shoulders and would have given the last one the same treatment as the first one
The above words of Imam Ali (a.s.) show that Allah has taken a pledge from the Imams (a.s.) that till the people are not ready to help and till they do not show their inclination, the Imams (a.s.) should not accept the apparent Caliphate. The government should be of the Imam is Allah’s decision. An Imam is not selected by the people. His leadership and authority are divinely granted. However, the apparent acceptance of leadership depends upon the help and readiness of the people.
Similarly, history is a witness to many examples of betrayal where the people left the Imam (a.s.) all alone after making lofty promises of loyalty. The conditions faced by Imam Husain (a.s.) amply demonstrate thus. The people of Kufa invited Imam Husain (a.s.) from Makkah and then betrayed him. Thus the world even today is deprived of the divine government whose foundations are justice and equity, without an iota of oppression.
The treachery of people and their opposition to divine commands made the Imams (a.s.) remain away from the society. Nevertheless, they sincerely protected the religion and educated the people in religious matters. We now proceed to enlighten our hearts, intellects and eyes by referring to the conditions of the lives of these Infallible Imams (a.s.)
Imamat is a practical Islamic School.
Imamat is the rein of Islam.
Imam is a fire on the heights (light-house) for guidance.
Gentle and close friend.
Sympathetic father and equal brother.
Sincere advisor to the slaves of Allah.
There are twelve successors of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and all are from Quraish.
Islam will remain established till Imamat survives.
All Imams (a.s.) are equal in knowledge and courage.
Imams (a.s.) acted in a particular way according to the situation of their time.
For the establishment of the divine government, people’s inclination for the same is a necessity.