A Reflection on Imamah

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They Embraced Islam when it was Weak, and Abandoned it when it was Strong
April 15, 2021

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A Reflection on Imamah

 

According to our scholars, it is generally understood that leadership was meant to pass on to Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam after the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, then to Imam Hassan ‘alayh al Salam, and then Imam Hussain ‘alayh al Salam, and it would continue in succession for the remaining 12 Imams, until it eventually reaches Imam Mahdi ‘alayh al Salam.

Let us now imagine a scenario where the Muslims did not apostatize, and that Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam took control of the affairs of the Muslims and ruled over them as he was destined to, and it continued accorded to the divinely-ordained sequence, until Imam Mahdi ‘alayh al Salam; would Imam Mahdi have assumed power for all eternity after that? Who would have succeeded him? Is there any potential for more Imams after that?

Was the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam mission determined by who would succeed him or did he come to call towards the worship of Allah?

The matter of succession after the most noble Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam can be reduced to three possibilities:

  1. The Sahabah did not disbelieve.

Whereupon we ask: Why did the Sahabah not pledge allegiance to Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam if the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had truly bequeathed that only he would succeed him?

 

  1. The Sahabah did

In which case we ask: What would the Imam achieve by ruling over a group of disbelievers? Is his primary concern simply to assume the role of leadership and rule over people and nothing else? Was it the intention of Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam to impose himself to rule over the people, like a dictator who rules over them against their will?

Moreover, this scenario bears the unavoidable implication that the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was unsuccessful in effecting any change in those around him. The necessary consequence of the apostasy the Sahabah is that they managed to fool him salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and remained for years in his presence as hypocrites, only to reveal their true colours after his demise. What, then, would Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam have accomplished if he was to rule over them?

If the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who is greater and more virtuous than Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam, failed in his mission, then what was Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam hoping to achieve?

What is astounding is that some people claim that he was coerced into pledging his allegiance! I do not know a greater travesty than allowing the affairs of the Muslims, after the passing of their leader, to be handed over to two-faced hypocrites! Also, where were the Sahabah who, despite their limited numbers, fought the mighty Quraysh? Moreover, did the Imam counsel the “imposters” under duress? Did he fight alongside them under duress? Was he coerced into accepting positions of leadership under them? Lastly, was he coerced into accepting the Caliphate after their demise?

 

  1. The final possibility is that the Muslims pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr willingly. If this is the case, then we say to them: what more do you want? When the Muslims chose their leader, and Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam pledged allegiance to them, why must you, centuries later, insist on inventing a dispute?

 

Did the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam come to make Islamic governance a monarchy?

All civilizations throughout human history are known to have enslaved people and crushed them. The Assyrians, the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Persians: all of them suppressed mankind in the name of religion, claiming that the religion had granted them the right to rule and administration. Whenever a king died this right would be transferred to his heir and kinsman. The citizens had no say in the matter; it would simply be imposed upon them.

Islam came to abolish these notions and to institute a form of law that would guarantee man his honour, his humanity, and would emancipate him from the servitude of fellow man to the servitude of the Lord of humankind. It came to elevate both the individual and society to the highest levels of freedom, such that they become free in choosing who rules them and represents them. It did not come to simply confer rule to the Ahlul Bayt, the noble family of the most honourable Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

Is it conceivable that the democratic legislation of Europe is better than the divine legislation? No Muslim who respects the religion that Allah has chosen for the people would dare say this.

No legislation was ever found in the history humankind that is more just than Islam. No legislation more advanced than that of Islam had ever come to people. The matter is decided by consultation among the Muslims, whereupon the Muslims pledge allegiance to the ruler and unite under him. Islam preceded all of the civilizations of the world in placing a system that was the pinnacle of progress, the like of which history has not witnessed until this day.

Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam affirmed this as has been related from him in Nahj al Balaghah:

Consultation is especially for the Muhajirin and Ansar; if they agree on a man and make him their leader then it is acceptable to Allah.[1]

 

The ruler is no more an employee whose responsibility is the management of the affairs of the Muslims, and implementing the law of Allah in the state. The ruler is a human like anyone else under his rule; he is subject to the authority of the Book of Allah. When he is faced with a case then he is to appeal to the divine law and to the authorities of the courts, standing before the judge just like any ordinary citizen. This is found in the case of Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam and the Jew. In fact, he got angry when the judge called him by his patronymic title as a gesture of respect and only addressed the Jew by his name.[2]

Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam says:

 

Consultation is especially for the Muhajirin and Ansar; if they agree on a man and make him their leader then it is acceptable to Allah. If anyone were to undermine their agreement through criticism or innovation, he will be forced back into line with the rest of them. If he refuses then they will fight him on grounds of him following other than the path of the believers, and Allah will abandon him to pursue whatever end he is after.[3]

 

It is for this reason that when the Caliphate was offered to him he simply responded, “Leave me and seek out someone else.”[4]

He also said:

I swear by Allah, I did not have any interest in Caliphate and neither did I have any desire of leadership, but you people have called me to it and imposed it on me.[5]

 

Had leadership been divinely mandated for him it would not have been permissible for the Imam to refuse it, and it would not have been permissible for Imam Hassan ‘alayh al Salam to relinquish it to Muawiyah.

Narrations were eventually invented that would ostensibly prove the doctrine of Imamah. To the extent it is claimed that Allah ordered all of His Messengers to establish Imamah. It is as if Allah created the world and sent Messengers for the sole purpose of Imamah and not to call their people to the Oneness of Allah.

Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:

وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ

And we most definitely sent in every nation a Messenger (who would say), “Worship Allah and avoid the Taghut (false deities).”[6]

 

If Imamah was truly a central pillar of the religion, such that anyone who doesn’t believe in it is disbeliever, then why is there not one clear verse in the Qur’an that establishes this great pillar which has become the criterion between belief and disbelief?

Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:

مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ

We did not leave anything out from the book.[7]

Imam ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam says regarding the pledge to Abu Bakr:

 

So, I walked up to Abu Bakr and pledged allegiance to him and strove in those events (the apostasy that was spreading) until falsehood was vanquished and the word of Allah reigned supreme, even if the disbelievers disliked it. Abu Bakr took control of those affairs and demonstrated moderation diligence. So, I accompanied him in good faith and with sincere motives, and I obeyed him, striving, in that in which he obeyed Allah.[8]

 

This is the Islamic system: Muslims are free; they choose their leader and pledge allegiance to him.

 

NEXT⇒ They Embraced Islam when it was Weak, and Abandoned it when it was Strong


[1] Nahj al Balaghah, 3/7.

[2] Ibn Shahr Ashub: Manaqib Al Abi Talib, 1/373; Al Majlisi: Bihar al Anwar, 54/56-57.

[3] Nahj al Balaghah, 3/7.

[4] Ibid, 2/184.

[5] Ibid, 2/184.

[6] Surah al Nahl: 36.

[7] Surah al An’am: 38.

[8] Al Thaqafi: Al Gharat, 1/306-307.

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