The word ‘Ismah according to the Arabs means: protection. And the protection of Allah for his slave is that he protects him from that which can destroy him. Likewise ‘so and so sought the protection of Allah’ means that he was safeguarded by him.
As for the precise definition of ‘Ismah (infallibility) according to its Shia conception, it differs in the various developmental stages of Shi’ism and its phases. However, it seems as if the definition thereof has settled upon what the Sheikh of the Shia in his time, al Majlisi (the author of Bihar al Anwar, d. 1111 A.H), has asserted:
اعلم أن الإمامية اتفقوا علي عصمة الأئمة –عليه السلام- من الذنوب – صغيرها و كبيرها- فلا يقع منهم ذنب أصلا لا عمدا ولا نسيانا ولا لخطأ في التأويل ولا للإسهاء من الله سبحانه
Know well that the Imamiyyah are unanimous regarding the infallibility of the Imams ‘alayhim al Salam; they are free from minor and major sins. Hence they can never commit a sin intentionally, forgetfully, due to an error in judgement, or due to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala making them heedless.
Al Majlisi has accorded the Imams infallibility from all possible perspectives; he has accorded them infallibility from sins of all types and from mistakes, heedlessness, and forgetfulness.
This type of infallibility, which al Majlisi claims is the locus of consensus among the Shia, was not enjoyed by the Prophets’ of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and his Rasuls, as is understood from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the consensus of the Ummah. Hence this understanding of infallibility is foreign to Islam. For the complete negation of heedlessness and forgetfulness from the Imams is tantamount to likening them to the one who does not slumber and sleep, i.e. Allah. Hence when al Rida, the eighth ‘infallible’ Imam of the Shia, was told:
إن في الكوفة قوما يزعمون أن النبي صلي الله عليه وآله لم يقع عليه السهو في صلاته
In Kufah there are people who claim that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not err in his salah.
كذبوا-لعنهم الله- إن الذي لا يسهو هو الله الذي لا إله إلا هو
They have lied, may Allah curse them. The one who does not err is Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
This narration, provided it is sound, implies that the denial of heedlessness and errors, which formed the basis of the doctrine of infallibility according to the later Shia, was in the era of al Rida the belief of just a few people who feigned partisanship for the Ahlul Bayt and who were not known, either due to their small count or due to them being unimportant, and obscure in their beliefs; they would make this eerie claim regarding the best of creation, i.e. Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. This extremist stance, due to it giving him resemblance to the one who does not slumber and sleep, was met with curses, refutation, and excommunication by the Imams of the Shia. So what would the reaction of al Rida be regarding people who make the same claim regarding him and others from his forefathers and progeny? Surely his disapproval would be much more intense.
It also implies that this doctrine only came about after the era of al Rida.
This intrigues us to investigate the roots of this doctrine and its development to the phase where it stands today.
Ibn Taymiyah asserts that the doctrine of infallibility was one of the views of Ibn Saba’. However, I have not come across a report which ascribes the word ‘Ismah (infallibility) to Ibn Saba’, even though that which has been reported from him amounts to infallibility and even beyond. For he is reported to have deified Amir al Mu’minin ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. But he did not coin the doctrine of infallibility as it stands as a Shia doctrine today. More so when his views were restricted to Amir al Mu’minin to such an extent that he was the first person to concoct the belief of Tawaqquf among the Shia, i.e. waiting for the reappearance of Imam ‘Ali and his return.
Al Qadi ‘Abd al Jabbar was of the opinion that the infallibility of the Imam, the idea that he is pure from mistakes and errors in all conditions and that he is not overcome by heedlessness and negligence were not known in the era of the Sahabah and their successors till the era of Hisham ibn al Hakam who took the responsibility of contriving them.
Muhibb al Din al Khatib also agrees with him in specifying the era wherein the doctrine of infallibility was born. But he attributes the invention thereof to one of Hisham ibn al Hakam’s contemporaries. He says:
و أول من اخترع لهم هذه العقيدة الضالة خبيث يسميه المسلمون شيطان الطاق و تسميه الشيعة (مؤمن آل محمد) و اسمه محمد بن علي الأحول
The first person to invent this devious doctrine for them was a wretched person who the Muslims called Shaitan al Taq, and the Shia called Mu’min Al Muhammad. His name was Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al Ahwal.
And Donaldson hints to the possibility of the doctrine of infallibility coming about in the era of Jafar al Sadiq.
It should be noted that Hisham ibn al Hakam and Shaitan al Taq were the contemporaries of Jafar al Sadiq. Hence it is very possible that the Shia began to learn of this doctrine from these individuals in the era of Jafar al Sadiq. Thereafter it developed and past many phases till it eventually settled on what al Majlisi explained it to be.
When we endeavour to study the texts of the Shia which make mention of infallibility in order to determine the various phases it passed we find that the books of the Shia attribute the following to Zayn al ‘Abidin ‘Ali ibn al Hussain:
المعصوم هو من اعتصم بحبل الله، و حبل الله هو القرآن
A Ma’sum (an infallible person) is the one who firmly holds on to the rope of Allah, and the rope of Allah is the Qur’an.
Whether the attribution of this narration to ‘Ali ibn al Hussain is authentic or not, it gives us the correct understanding of infallibility which was in line with the beautiful teachings of Islam in those early stages of Shiasm. Hence holding on to the Qur’an is in essence a source of protection and salvation. But this understanding thereof is not limited to a specific people. For Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together.
Likewise Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
وَمَن يَعْتَصِمْ بِاللهِ فَقَدْ هُدِيَ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيْمٍ
And whoever holds firmly to Allah has [indeed] been guided to a straight path.
Subsequent to this in the next phase we find that Hisham ibn al Hakam, to whom al Qadi ‘Abd al Jabbar attributes the invention of the doctrine of infallibility, responds with the following when Hussain al Ashqar poses a question to him:
ما معني قولكم: إن الإمام لا يكون إلا معصوما؟ فقال هشام: سألت أبا عبد الله (جعفر الصادق) عن ذلك فقال: المعصوم هو الممتنع بالله من جميع محارم الله وقال تبارك وتعالي: وَمَن يَعْتَصِم بِاللهِ فَقَدْ هُدِيَ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ
“What do you mean when you say that the Imam is not but infallible?”
Hisham said, “I asked Abu ‘Abdullah regarding this and he said, ‘An infallible person is the one who is protected by Allah from all the prohibitions of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.’ He then recited the verse, ‘And whoever holds firmly to Allah has [indeed] been guided to a straight path.’”
Another Shia by the name Ibn Abi ‘Umair says the following:
ما استفدت من هشام بن الحكم في طول صحبتي إياه شيئا أحسن من هذا الكلام في عصمة الإمام وهو: أن الإمام لا يذنب لأن منافذ الذنوب الحرص و الحسد و الغضب و الشهوة، و هذه الأوجه منتفية عن الإمام
I have not learnt anything more beneficial from Hisham ibn al Hakam during the time I stayed in his company than the explanation he gave regarding the infallibility of the Imam. And that is that the Imam does not sin. Because greed, jealousy, anger, and lust are the avenues of sin and they are not found in the Imam.
This understanding of infallibility, nonetheless, is nowhere close to the extremist understanding of al Majlisi. And the implications thereof are not as grave as the later understanding of it which is more extreme in terms of it equating the words of the Imam to revelation which cannot be adulterated from ahead or from behind, and in terms of denying all human defects, like that of heedlessness, negligence, and forgetfulness from them; ultimately elevating them from humans to possessors of divine attributes.
Likewise it should be noted that averring that the Imam is divinely protected from sinning and is propelled to do good implies that he is coerced by Allah. This goes against the stance of the Twelvers regarding Taqdir (pre-destination). For they believe in complete freedom and free will and in man being the creator of his own actions. This is evidence of the fact that this understanding of infallibility precedes their stance on pre-destination which they adopted from the Mu’tazilah in the third century.
We therefore find that after the influence of the Mu’tazili thought on the Shia dogma the understanding of infallibility became tainted with some of its ideas, like that of divine Lutf (divine grace) and free human will. This is clearly discernible from the definition which al Mufid (d. 413 A.H.) gives of infallibility; he says:
بأنها لطف يفعله الله –تعالي- بالمكلف بحيث يمنع منه وقوع المعصية، و ترك الطاعة مع قدرته عليها
Infallibility is the Lutf (grace) of Allah with which He favours His responsible slave. He by way of it protects him from falling into disobedience and from abandoning good when having the capacity to do it.
So based on this definition, the Imam is not coerced by Allah to leave evil, rather Allah showers His Altaf (grace) upon him owing to which he willingly does not disobey Him. See how he uses the terminology of the Mu’tazilah to explain the doctrine of infallibility.
Moving on, the doctrine of infallibility did not stop at the extent of negating sins from the Imams, rather it exceeded that. Hence in the fourth century Ibn Babawayh asserts the following regarding infallibility in his book al I’tiqadat:
دين الشيعة الإمامية فيقول: اعتقادنا في الأئمة أنهم معصومون مطهرون من كل دنس و أنهم لا يذنبون ذنبا صغيرا ولا كبيرا، ولا يعصون الله ما أمرهم و يفعلون ما يؤمرون و من نفي عنهم العصمة في شيء من أحوالهم فقد جهلهم و من جهلهم فهو كافر، و اعتقادنا فيهم أنهم معسومون موصوفون بالكمال والتمام و العلم من أوائل أمورهم و أواخرها لا يوصفون في شيء من أحوالهم بنقص ولا عصيان ولا جهل
Our belief regarding the Imams is that they are infallible and purified from all defilements. They do not commit any sins, minor or major. They do not disobey Allah in what he has ordered them, and they do as they are told to do. A person who does not belief in their Infallibility in any aspect of their lives is a disbeliever. Likewise whoever does not know about them is also a disbeliever. Our belief regarding them is that they are infallible and they are characterised by perfection, completeness, and knowledge from the beginning of their affairs to the end. In none of their affairs are they ever described as deficient, sinful, or ignorant.
In this explanation, he denies disobedience, ignorance, and deficiency from the Imams. And he establishes perfection for them from the beginning of their lives to the end. He also excommunicates whoever does not believe in this. This was thus another phase in the development of the doctrine of infallibility.
But he does not explicitly negate making mistakes as does al Majlisi and the later Shia scholars. In his book Man la Yahduruhu al Faqih he rather asserts that negating mistakes from Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is the stance of the extremist and the Mufawwidah. He says:
إن الغلاة والمفوضة-لعنهم الله-ينكرون سهو النبي-صلي الله عليه و آله- يقولون: لو جاز أن يسهو في الصلاة لجاز أن يسهو في التبليغ، لأن الصلاة فريضة كما أن التبليغ فريضة..و ليس سهو النبي صلي الله عليه وسلم- كسهونا لأن سهوه من الله- عز و جل- و إنما أسهاه ليعلم أنه بشر مخلوق فلا يتخذ ربا معبودا دونه و ليعلم الناس بسهوه حكم السهو، و كان شيخنا محمد بن الحسن بن أحمد بن الوليد يقول: أول درجة في الغلو نفي السهو عن النبي صلي الله عليه وسلم و أنا أحتسب الأجر في تصنيف كتاب مفرد في إثبات سهو النبي و الرد علي منكريه
The extremist and the Mufawwidah, may the curse of Allah be upon them, negate the mistakes of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. They say, “If it is possible for him to err in salah then it is possible for him to err in his propagation of din as well, for just as salah is an obligatory injunction, so is propagation an obligatory injunction…”
Whereas Nabi’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam mistakes are not like our mistakes. For Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala made him err so that it is understood that he is a created human and thus is not taken as a deity who is worshipped besides Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. And so that the rulings of erring are derived from his mistakes. Our teacher Muhammad ibn al Hassan ibn Ahmed ibn al Walid used to say, “The first step to extremism is the negation of mistakes from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.” And I hope of reward from Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in compiling a book to prove the mistakes of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and refuting the claims of those who deny them.
As is clear from this narration, Ibn Babawayh who is the leader of the Shia, as they call him, disapproves the claim of those who assert that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not err. So how could it be true for the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt who were less than him in status? He likewise considers the negation of erring to be indicative of extremism and says that it is the view of the extremists. He likewise points out that the negation of erring implies the likening of the creation to the Creator Most High.
Hence the negation of erring is the addition of the later Shia to the doctrine of infallibility. That is why all the reports which their early scholars allegedly narrate from the Imams oppose it. For example: Abu ‘Abdullah would say the following when asked about erring:
أو ينفلت من ذلك أحد ربما أقعدت الخادم خلفي يحفظ علي صلاتي
Can anyone escape therefrom? At times I make my servant stand behind me so that he monitors my salah.
And as has passed previously, al Rida would curse the one who negated erring from Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and he would say:
إن الذي لا يسهو هو الله سبحانه
The one who does not err is Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
And the books of the Shia have reported narration regarding the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam erring in his salah.
It is eerie indeed that despite their consensus being violated by the Shia scholars of the fourth century they still furnish it as evidence for their stance. It is the temptation of extremism which makes them say:
إن أصحابنا الإمامية أجمعوا علي عصمة الأئمة-صلوات الله عليهم- من الذنوب الصغيرة و الكبيرة عمدا و خطا و نسيانا من وقت ولادتهم إلي أن يلقوا الله عز و جل
Our Imami scholars are unanimous regarding the infallibility of the Imams from all types of minor and major sins, whether they be intentionally, by mistaken, or forgetfully; from the time they were born till when they will meet Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
When they are asked that how can there be consensus in this regard when your scholar Ibn Babawayh and his teacher Ibn al Walid have opposed your stance? They say:
إن خروجهما لا يخل بالإجماع لكونهما معروف النسب
Their opposition does not really violate the consensus due to them having a known lineage.
Which implies that the identity of some or all of those who are of the opinion of complete infallibility is not known. It is thus possible that the hidden Mahdi emerged from his occultation and voiced his opinion with them and it is his opinion which forms the basis of their consensus. In other words, in establishing the validity of their consensus it is sufficient to prove the possibility of the hidden infallible Imam being on the side of those who do not ascribe mistakes and errors to the Imams.
Astonishing indeed! They reject clear narrations of their Imams which prove mistakes which appear in their seminal works but cling onto a consensus which rests upon the possible backing of the hidden Imam.
But at the end of the day, the Shia dogma is not the creed of the Imams, rather it is the creed of their scholars.
Al Majlisi was baffled when he saw the copious narrations which oppose the consensus of his fellow scholars. He thus says:
المسألة بغاية الإشكال لدلالة كثير من الأخبار و الآيات علي صدور السهو عنهم، وإطباق الأصحاب إلا من شذ منهم علي عدم الجواز
This is a very difficult issue. For there are many narrations and verses which prove that the Imams made mistakes. Whereas the consensus of our friends is on the impossibility of them making mistakes.
The aforementioned is an acknowledgement from al Majlisi that the consensus of the later Shia scholars regarding the infallibility of the Imams opposes their narrations completely. It is also evidence of the fact that that they at times concur upon complete misguidance and upon issues which are not backed by any evidence whatsoever.
In spite of the fact that the Qur’an does not contain any mention of the Twelve Imams, let alone their infallibility, the Twelvers cling on to the Qur’an to prove the doctrine of infallibility. And all their scholars unanimously try to establish it with the following verse:
وَإِذِ ابْتَلٰى إِبْرَاهِيْمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّيْ جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا قَالَ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِيْ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِيْنَ
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Ibrahim was tried by his Lord with words [i.e., commands] and he fulfilled them. [Allah] said, “Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people.” [Ibrahim] said, “And of my descendants?” [Allah] said, “My ‘Ahd (covenant), does not include the oppressors.”
In his Bihar al Anwar al Majlisi has initiated a chapter pertaining to infallibility with this verse. The chapter is Chapter regarding the necessity of infallibility for the Imam.
Likewise many contemporary scholars as well use this verse to establish the infallibility of the Imams; they do not present any other verse in substantiation. Some being Muhsin al Amin and Muhammad Hussain Al Kashif al Ghita’ who asserts that this verse explicitly establishes the infallibility of the Imams.
The author of Majma’ al Bayan takes the responsibility of expounding on the manner in which their scholars infer evidence from the purport of this verse; he says:
استدل أصحابنا بهذه الآية علي أن الإمام لا يكون إلا معصوما من القبايح، لأن الله-سبحانه- نفي أن ينال عهده الذي هو الإمامة ظالم،و من ليس بمعصوم فقد يكون ظالما إما لنفسه، و إما لغيره
Our scholars have used this verse as evidence to prove that the Imam is not but immune from all types of vice. Because Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in this verse clearly states that an oppressor is not eligible for his ‘Ahd, vicegerency. And a person who is not infallible will most certainly oppress; he will either oppress himself or he will oppress others.
If it is said that an oppressor is not eligible whilst he is an oppressor, but if he repents, he no more remains an oppressor and hence becomes eligible.
The answer would be: Even if he repents, he is still included in the verse because of previously having oppressed. Hence when Allah has denied an oppressor the privilege then he has decreed that he will never attain it. And the verse is completely general, it is not specific to any time, hence it should be kept general and inclusive of all times. An oppressor will not attain the privilege of vicegerency even if he repents later.
Firstly, the early scholars have differed as to the precise meaning of ‘Ahd. Ibn ‘Abbas and al Suddi say that ‘Ahd in the verse translates as Nubuwwah (prophethood). Mujahid says that it means leadership, i.e. I will not make an oppressor a leader whose example can be followed. Qatadah, Ibrahim al Nakha’i, ‘Ata’, al Hassan, and ‘Ikrimah are of the opinion that an oppressor will not enjoy the covenant of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in the afterlife. As for this life, he will enjoy it due to which he will be safe and live enjoyably. al Zujaj agrees and says that this is a very good interpretation, i.e. the oppressors will not enjoy my protection, meaning that I will not protect them from my punishment; and ‘oppressor’ means a polytheist. Al Rabi’ ibn Anas and al Dahhak say that ‘Ahd means din. The verse will then mean that the oppressors will not be blessed with the din of Allah. Don’t you see that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
وَبَارَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ وَعَلٰى إِسْحَاقَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِهِمَا مُحْسِنٌ وَظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِ مُبِيْنٌ
And we blessed him and Ishaq. But among their descendants is the doer of good and the clearly unjust to himself [i.e., sinner].
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in this verse says that not all of your posterity will be on guidance, O Ibrahim.
And lastly Ibn ‘Abbas has narrated the following: My ‘Ahd will not benefit the oppressors means that the oppressors do not deserve loyalty in an agreement. Hence when you enter into an agreement with them they violate it.
As you can see, the early scholars greatly differed as to the precise interpretation of the verse; it has no connection at all with leadership according to most of them. Even those who interpret it as leadership, intend leadership in knowledge, piety, and being role models, not Imamah based on its Shia conception.
Secondly, even if the verse is regarding Imamah, in no way does it establish infallibility. Because it is not possible to say that a person who does not do wrong does not err, forget, or is not overtaken by heedlessness, etc., as is the understanding of infallibility according to the Shia. Or else their stance would imply that a person who forgets is an oppressor and a person who errs is an oppressor. This of course is not in harmony with the teachings of Islam and no one agrees with them regarding it as well. Hence there is a very big difference between establishing infallibility and negating oppression. Because negating oppression proves justice but not infallibility.
Thirdly, it is not correct to say that a person who repents from his oppression is still considered an oppressor and that repentance does not avail him in the alleviation thereof. Because the greatest oppression is ascribing partners to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala: Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُوْا إِيْمَانَهُمْ بِظُلْمٍ
They who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice.
Thereafter Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala explains the oppression mentioned in this verse in another verse:
إِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيْمٌ
Indeed, association [with Him] is great oppression.
But then too Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala announces the following regarding the disbelievers:
قُلْ لِّلَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا إِنْ يَّنتَهُوْا يُغْفَرْ لَهُم مَّا قَدْ سَلَفَ
Say to those who have disbelieved [that] if they cease, what has previously occurred will be forgiven for them.
But the Shia reasoning demands that a person who ascribes partners to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala even for a moment, or a person who commits a sin, even though minor, is an oppressor from who the trait of oppression becomes inseparable. Based on this, if a person who ascribes partners to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala accepts Islam he is still a polytheist because oppression is ascribing partners to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
This extreme stance makes them even more staunch then the Khawarij who only establish the punishment for a perpetrator of a major sin who does not repent from his sin.
Aside from Shari’ah, convention, and language, it is an obvious aspect even according to reason that a person who repents and makes amends after his disbelief or oppression cannot be called a disbeliever or an oppressor. Or else it would be permissible to call an old man a child, a person who is awake a sleeper, a poor person rich, a satiated person hungry, and a dead person alive and vice versa. Likewise it would necessitate that the oath of a person who swears not to greet a disbeliever and then greets a Muslim who was previously a disbeliever be violated. Whereas no one is of that opinion.
It is also a well-established fact that sometimes a person who repents from his oppression turns out to be better than a person who did not fall into oppression at all. Any person who believes that a person who did not disbelieve, murder or sin is necessarily better than a person who accepted iman after disbelief, attained guidance after deviance, and repented after sinning; has indeed opposed the undeniable history of Islam. Because it is fact that the forerunners of Islam (who were previously disbelievers) are more virtuous than their children. Can any intelligent person ever equate the children of the Muhajirin and the Ansar to their fathers in rank?
This substantiation of theirs also demands that all the Muslims, including the Shia and the Ahlul Bayt (besides those who they accord infallibility) be considered oppressors due to them not being infallible. Whereas their scholar al Tusi says that the title oppressor is a bad title and should only be used for a person who is deserving of the wrath of Allah, as in the verse:
أَلَا لَعْنَةُ اللهِ عَلَى الظَّالِمِيْنَ
The curse of Allah is upon the oppressors.
Lastly, I end of the critique with what one of the scholars of the Zaidiyyah has mentioned in refutation of the substantiation of the Shia from this verse. He says:
احتج بعض الرافضة بالآية علي أن الإمامة لا يستحقها من ظلم مرة،ورام الطعن في إمامة أبي بكر و عمر، و هذا لا يصح لأن العهد إن حمل علي النبوة فلا جحة، و إن حمل علي الإمامة فمن تاب من الظلم لا يوصف بأنه ظالم، ولم يمنعه-تعالي-من نيل العهد إلا حال كونه ظالما
Some of the Shia draw evidence from this verse to prove that a person who was guilty of oppression once in his life is not deserving of leadership, thereby intending to illegitimate the rule of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. But this is incorrect. Because if the word ‘Ahd is taken in the meaning of Nubuwwah then it is not evidence for the Shia. And if it is taken in the meaning of leadership, then the one who repents from his oppression cannot be called an oppressor. And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has not deprived him from leadership except when he is an oppressor.
They present some of the narrations of the Ahlus Sunnah in order to establish their case against the Ahlus Sunnah and in order to beguile their people into believing that the issue of infallibility is a locus of consensus between both parties. However, all these narrations are either outright lies or very far from what they try to prove. The discussion in this regard has passed already in the section pertaining to Imamah.
Those narrations which they present are mostly related to the Ahlul Bayt, but they cannot serve as evidence for the Twelvers because the Twelvers do not have any association whatsoever with the Ahlul Bayt, besides, of course, the artificial relationship they claim to have with some members thereof, i.e. ‘Ali, Hassan, Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhum and some members of the posterity of Hussain. Even so, their relationship with the Ahlul Bayt has long ended with the death of Hassan al ‘Askari who died without having any children in 260 A.H. Since then they are affiliated to scholars who claim to be the representatives of a fictitious person who does not exist. These scholars are the people who have taken this cult to those horrendous ideas and beliefs some of which we have studied in the previous pages.
Likewise, in the previous pages some examples of how they excommunicate the Ahlul Bayt have also passed. Therefore their claim that the Ahlul Bayt are infallible is just a mere deception.
Nonetheless, the Shia try to establish the infallibility of the Imams with narrations which the author of al Kafi, Ibrahim al Qummi, al Majlisi, and their likes narrate. Narrations whose very wording is reprehensible let alone their chains of transmission. Al Majlisi for example has cited twenty three narrations from his scholars al Qummi, al ‘Ayyashi, al Mufid, and others in the chapter he has dedicated to infallibility. He has cited all of them after presenting the aforementioned verse of Surah al Baqarah wherefrom their substantiation is utterly incorrect.
As to al Kulayni, he has established many chapters in his al Kafi regarding the alleged infallibility of the Imams. Therein he cites multiple narrations which he allegedly narrates from the Hidden Imam. These narrations suggest that the Imams claimed that they were infallible, rather the partners of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in his prophethood, and possessors of some of the divine attributes; this has passed previously in the chapter regarding their beliefs regarding the fundamentals of din. You will find an example of this in the chapter: Chapter regarding the Imams being the Pillars of the Earth. In this chapter he cites three narrations which prove that the Twelve Imams are like Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in loyalty being mandatory for them, in virtue, and in their duties. Hence it is reported that after the demise of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the remaining Imams are deserving of the same level of loyalty which Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam deserved. These narrations thereafter go on to raise ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu beyond the position of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and equate him to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. Hence it is reported:
أعطيت خصالا لم يعطهن أحد قبلي، علمت علم المنايا و البلايا..فلم يفتني ما سبقني و لم يعزب عني ما غاب عني
I have been given such attributes which no one before me was given; I possess the knowledge of deaths and calamities, that which has preceded me is not unknown to me and that which is hidden from is not away from me.
Whereas the only one who possesses the knowledge of deaths and calamities is Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. Allah says:
وَمَا تَدْرِيْ نَفْسٌ مَّاذَا تَكْسِبُ غَدًا وَمَا تَدْرِيْ نَفْسٌ بِأَيِّ أَرْضٍ تَمُوْتُ
And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul perceives in what land it will die.
Likewise the one who nothing is hidden from and who nothing of the creation can surpass is Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. Allah says:
لَا يَعْزُبُ عَنْهُ مِثْقَالُ ذَرَّةٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَلَا فِي الْأَرْضِ
Not absent from Him is an atom’s weight within the heavens or within the earth.
So it is not just a matter of infallibility, rather it is a matter of progression therefrom to prophethood and deification, the aftermath of which is the renunciation of Islam.
There are many chapters in al Kafi which assert the same. All these chapters contain the narrations of false prophets and heretics across history. It is just that they ascribed them to the pure household of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Their logical substantiations for the infallibility of the Imams can easily be condensed in one claim. And that is the claim that the entire Ummah is prone to mistakes and misguidance and the Imam is the only one who can save them from misguidance.
All their evidences revolve around this axis. Hence they assert that the Ummah requires an infallible leader who will rectify its mistakes. If he also has the potential to make mistakes, then another person will be required to correct his mistakes and this will then lead to infinite regress. That is why it is important to believe in the infallibility of the Imam.
This implies that their reliance is upon the lone Imam and not upon the Ummah. They also aver that he is the protector of the Shari’ah. The Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the consensus of the Ummah thus do not enjoy any credence.
The reality, however, is that this entire argument is baseless due to the fact that the Ummah is preserved/infallible as a whole through the medium of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, i.e. the Ummah will never unite upon misguidance. Hence the infallibility of the Ummah as a whole makes it independent from the infallibility of an Imam. The following is what the scholars have said in connection with the infallibility of the Ummah:
When any of the previous nations would deviate and corrupt its din, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala would send a prophet to them with the truth. In this Ummah specifically, there is no Nabi to come after its Nabi, hence its infallibility is equivalent to prophethood. Hence no one will endeavour to distort any of its teachings but that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala will give rise to someone who will point out his blunders in his corruption. This is exactly why Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has coupled the way of the believers to obedience to him and to his Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in the verse:
وَمَنْ يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُوْلَ مِنْۢ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدٰى وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيْلِ الْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلّٰى وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيْرًا
And whoever opposes the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and follows other than the way of the believers – We will give him what he has taken and drive him into Hell, and evil it is as a destination.
The idea of the immunity of the Ummah from misguidance, as is established in many Shar’i texts, therefore, is in complete contrast with idea of the infallibility of just one individual among the Muslims which posits the possibility of the entire Ummah being misguided in his absence.
Furthermore, all the logical reasons for the need for an infallible Imam (with which they have filled many a pages) were all fulfilled by the existence of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. That is why at times of dispute the Ummah is required to refer its conflicts back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam came with, but not to the Imam. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِيْ شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوْهُ إِلَى اللّٰهِ وَالرَّسُوْلِ
And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger.
The scholars explain: i.e. to the book of Allah and to his Nabi whilst he is alive or to his Sunnah after his demise. And thanks to the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah it will as a whole not unite upon deviation. Because there will be no era which will be void of people who will abide by them till the Day of Judgment.
This is exactly why the evidence of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala was established against the creation through the medium of the prophets. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
إِنَّا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ كَمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلٰى نُوْحٍ وَالنَّبِيِّيْنَ مِنْۢ بَعْدِهِ إلي قوله: لِئَلَّا يَكُوْنَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى اللّٰهِ حُجَّةٌۢ بَعْدَ الرُّسُلِ
Indeed, we have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], as we revealed to Nuh and the prophets after him… (until the verse:) so that mankind will have no argument against Allah after the messengers.
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in this verse does not make mention of the Imams. This is a refutation of those who make the entire Ummah independent upon the Imams.
Likewise the end result of all their logical arguments for the need of an infallible Imam, without who the Ummah will not enjoy safety and pure faith, is the invalidation of the doctrine of infallibility. This is due to fact that the requirements of Imamah were not fulfilled by their Imams.
For instance, to prove this it is will suffice to note that after the year 260 A.H. the emergence of an Imam came to an end. Whether it is believed that he did not exist, as was the view of the majority of the sects which emerged after the demise of Hassan al ‘Askari, the view of the family of Hassan al ‘Askari—at the forefront being his brother Jafar—and as is established by the scholars of genealogy and history; or that he existed but went into occultation, as is the view of the Twelvers. Whichever of the two is asserted, it is quite clear that the Ummah did not benefit from this alleged Mahdi in the matters of its din or worldly life. This is such a flaw in the Twelver dogma that cannot be undone; it leaves no regard or weight for any of its assertions and evidences.
Similarly, none of his forefathers before him, with the exception of ‘Ali and Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhuma prior to his relinquishment, took charge of the affairs of the Ummah. The scholars, therefore, say that the Shia do not have any evidence whatsoever to back the doctrine of infallibility besides their claim that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, owing to his grace and the benefit of the Ummah, has not left the world void of an infallible Imam at any given time. And that also is flawed. Because it is well-known that the Ummah did not receive any grace or benefit from the Mahdi or his forefathers as it received from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam after emigration. For he was the leader of the believers whose obedience was compulsory upon them and through whose medium they received bliss and success. After his rule no one for whom they claim infallibility assumed leadership besides ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. And it is fact that the benefit and the grace the believers enjoyed during the rule of the first three Khulafa’ was by far more than the grace and the benefit it enjoyed during the rule of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu which was filled with wars, tribulations, and disunity.
As for those besides ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, people would benefit from their knowledge and piety just as they would benefit from their contemporaries; ‘Ali ibn al Hussain, his son Abu Jafar and his son Jafar would impart knowledge to the people just like other scholars of their time. In fact in their time there were people more knowledgeable than them and who benefitted the Ummah more than them, as is known to the erudite. Even if we, for argument sake, consider them to have been more knowledgeable and of more benefit to the Ummah, then too the scholars of din could not possibly have the same influence the rulers and kings had in enforcing the truth and forcibly inhibiting evil.
As for the remaining Imams who followed after these three, viz. the ‘Askariyin, they were not known to possess knowledge which benefitted the Ummah, nor did they have any authority wherefrom the Ummah benefitted. Rather they were like the other Hashimis who deserved honour and status. They had the necessary knowledge of Islam which others besides them also had and which many laymen also possess. The scholars thus did not benefit from them as they did from the previous three.
The claim of Infallibility for the Imams smacks of assimilating them to the Prophets’. For it is compulsory to obey an infallible in everything he says; it is not permissible to oppose him in any way. This is the speciality of the Prophets’, which is why Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has ordered us to believe in what he revealed to them. He says:
قُوْلُوْا آمَنَّا بِاللّٰهِ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلٰى إِبْرَاهِيْمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيْلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوْبَ وَالْأَسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوْتِيَ مُوْسٰى وَعِيْسٰى وَمَا أُوْتِيَ النَّبِيُّوْنَ مِنْ رَّبِّهِمْ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُوْنَ
Say, [O believers], “We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Ya’qub and the Descendants and what was given to Musa and ‘Isa and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.”
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in this verse orders us to proclaim that we believe in what the Prophets’ were given. Hence having faith in the Prophets’ and proclaiming that faith is our duty. This is unanimously accepted by all Muslims. So whoever attributes infallibility to anyone after the Prophets’ has indeed attributed the essence of prophethood to him even though he does not accord him the title of prophethood.
This is in clear contrast with the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the consensus of the Ummah, and its scholars.
As for its opposition of the Qur’an, Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam says:
أَطِيْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَأَطِيْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ فَإِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِيْ شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوْهُ إِلَى اللّٰهِ وَالرَّسُوْلِ
Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger.
Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has not ordered us to refer to anyone in our disputes besides Allah and His Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Had there been an infallible besides Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala would have ordered us to refer our disputes to him. This establishes that no one is infallible besides Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Likewise Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللّٰهَ وَالرَّسُوْلَ فَأُولٰئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِيْنَ أَنْعَمَ اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِّنَ النَّبِيِّيْنَ وَالصِّدِّيْقِيْنَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِيْنَ وَحَسُنَ أُولٰئِكَ رَفِيْقًا
And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger – those will be with the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed favour of the prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous. And excellent are those as companions.
And Allah says:
وَمَنْ يَّعْصِ اللّٰهَ وَرَسُوْلَهُ فَإِنَّ لَهُ نَارَ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِيْنَ فِيْهَا أَبَدًا
And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger – then indeed, for him is the fire of Hell; they will abide therein forever.
Hence the Qur’an in multiple places establishes that whoever obeys Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam will be from the people of good fortune, the Qur’an does not place the condition of obeying any other infallible person besides him. And whoever disobeys Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam will be deserving of the punishment of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, even if we hypothetically assume that he obeyed an infallible person.
Apart from Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, regarding everyone else the scholars of the Qur’an and the Sunnah are unanimous that some of his statements and opinions are worth acceptance and some not. It is only compulsory for a person to believe in everything Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam informed us of, follow all his instructions, refrain from his prohibitions and worship Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in the ways he has institutionalised. Because he is the infallible being who did not speak based on his desires; whatever he said was revelation through and through.
There is ample evidence for this in the Sunnah, but the Shia only consider the verdicts of their Imams to be of worth. Therefore ahead I shall present the verdicts of the Imams which debunk the doctrine of infallibility.
In Nahj al Balaghah, a word of which they do not doubt, a narration which debunks all of their claims regarding the infallibility of the Imams appears. It says that Amir al Mu’minin said:
لا تخالطوني بالمصانعة ولا تظنوا بي استثقالا في حق قيل لي، ولا التماس إعظام النفس فإنه من استثقل الحق أن يقال بحق، أو مشورة بعدل، فإني لست في نفسي بفوق أن أخطيء ولا آمن ذلك من فعلي
Do not socialise with me with dissimulation. And do not think that I consider the truth which is said to me to be a burden and that I seek to aggrandize myself. For verily a person who treats the truth that is said to him as a burden and dislikes that he be reminded of justice, finds it difficult to practice upon them. Hence do not withhold the proclamation of truth and the advising of justice. Because I do not consider myself immune from mistakes and nor am I sure that I will never err.
Amir al Mu’minin in this narration is advising his friends not to hesitate in advising him and voicing their opinions to him and is telling them not to be barred from doing so by dissimulation and flattery. Likewise he is advising them not to assume that he will not accept the truth if it said to him considering it to be a burden or due to regarding himself beyond reformation. For verily a ruler who does not accept the suggestions of his subjects and is not happy with people telling him that he is wrong is very far from practicing the truth and justice. Simply because a person who considers the advice of others to be a burden is the most incapable of implementing it. Hence what he is implying here is that advise me and voice the truth before me because the entire Ummah as a whole is closer to infallibility and the truth, but a person by himself is not immune from erring. Hence he completely debunks the infallibility that the Shia attribute to him. Instead he emphasises that he does not have any immunity against erring. He likewise does not proclaim that he is independent of consulting his subjects, rather he presses upon them that they advise him of the truth and justice, because the Ummah will never unite upon misguidance but an individual thereof has the potential of going astray. This very clearly proves that infallibility is the invention of the Shia.
Likewise the following narration also appears in Nahj al Balaghah:
لا بد للناس من أمير بر أو فاجر يعمل في إمرته المؤمن، و يجمع به الفيء و يقاتل به العدو و تأمن به السيل،و يؤخذ به للضعيف من القوي
The people have to have a ruler, pious or impious, under whose rule a believer can freely practice, booty can be accumulated, the enemy can be subdued, roads can be secured and the rights of the weak can be claimed from the strong.
As you can see, he does not stipulate infallibility as a requirement for the ruler and he does not hint to it even in any way. Rather he says that such a ruler has to be appointed through whose rule the well-being of the people and the state is taken care of. He does not say that an infallible Imam should take charge of the affairs of the Ummah and that every flag that is raised before the flag of the infallible Mahdi is a flag of ignorance, as the books of the Shia assert. He likewise does not confine rulership to the twelve infallible Imams and does not excommunicate the remaining Muslim rulers, as is the view of the Shia. Instead he highlights the need for a ruler, even though sinful, and considers his rule to be legitimate by legitimising the Jihad which is fought under his rule. How far indeed is this from what the Shia claim that Jihad is not permissible till the emergence of the Mahdi because of leadership being confined to the Twelve Imams?
Furthermore, the Imams would confess their crimes and they would seek the forgiveness of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
Hence Amir al Mu’minin would say the following in his supplication:
اللهم اغفر لي ما أنت أعلم به مني. فإن عدت فعد علي بالمغفرة. اللهم اغفر لي ما وأيت من نفسي ولم تجد له وفاء عندي. اللهم اغفر لي ما تقربت به أليك بلساني ثم خالفه قلبي. اللهم اغفر لي رمزات الألحاظ وسقطات الألفاظ وشهوات الجنان وهفوات اللسان.
O Allah forgive me for what you know best about me. If I happen to recommit my sins then forgive me again. O Allah forgive me for the promises I made to you which you found that I did not fulfil. O Allah forgive me for the words with which I sought your closeness but did not complement with the feelings of my heart. O Allah forgive me for the sneaky gazes, the mistakes of words, the desires of the bosom, and the slips of the tongue.
In this narration you find the confession of sins, recommitting them after having repented, the confessions of the mistakes of speech, the desires of the bosom and the heart’s opposition of the tongue… all of this debunks the infallibility that the Shia claim. For if ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the Imams were really infallible their seeking forgiveness would be in vein. It has thus been reported regarding all the Imams that they sought the forgiveness of Allah from sins and shortfalls. Had they been infallible they would not have any sins whatsoever.
Abu ‘Abdullah is reported to have said:
إنا لنذنب و نسيء ثم نتوب علي الله متابا
We sin and do evil deeds and then we sincerely repent to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
And Abu al Hassan (Musa al Kazim) would, according to the reports of the Shia, supplicate thus:
رب عصيتك بلساني ولو شئت وعزتك لأخرستني،و عصيتك ببصري بيدي ولو شئت و عزتك لكنعتني، و عصيتك بفرجي ولو شئت وعزتك لأعقمتني، و عصيتك برجلييي ولو شئت و عزتك لجذمتني، و عصيتك بجميع جوارحي التي أنعمت بها علي ولم يكن هذا جزاك مني
O my Lord I disobeyed You with my tongue, if You wanted, by Your honour, You could have made me dumb. I disobeyed You with my eyes, if You wanted, by Your honour, You could have impaired my vision. I disobeyed You with my ears, if You wanted, by Your honour, You could have made me deaf. I disobeyed You with my hands, if You wanted, by Your honour, You could have paralysed me. I disobeyed You with my private parts, if You wanted You could have made me sterile. And I disobeyed You with my legs, if You want You could have amputated my legs. And I have disobeyed You with all the body parts You bestowed me with and did not repay You back for them adequately.
These supplications and narrations have left the scholars of the Shia baffled due to them opposing their doctrine of infallibility.
One of them has sketched his confusion and bafflement around the aforementioned narration. He states:
كنت أفكر في معناه وأقول: كيف يتنزل علي ما تعتقد الشيعة من القول بالعصمة وما اتضح لي ما يدفع التردد الذي يوجبه
I was contemplating over the purport of this narration and saying, “How does this fit into what the Shia believe regarding infallibility?” And the answer which resolves this contention did not become clear to me.
Thereafter he mentions that he raised this contention to one of his scholars whose name is Radi al Din Abu al Hassan ‘Ali ibn Musa ibn Ta’us al ‘Alawi al Hassani. To which he responded by saying:
إن الوزير مؤيد الدين العلقمي سألني عنه فقلت: كان يقول هذا ليعلم الناس
The minister Mu’ayyid al Din al ‘Alqami had previously asked me about the same. So I told him the following, “He would say this to educate the people.”
Ibn al ‘Alqami was seemingly satisfied with the response. But the questioner furthered the question and raised the objection that:
إني فكرت بعد ذلك فقلت : هذا كان يقول في سجدته في الليل وليس عنده من يعلمه
I thought about the answer thereafter and I said, “He would make this supplication at night when there was no one there who he could teach.”
He then says:
ثم خطر ببالي جواب آخر وهو أنه كان يقول ذلك علي سبيل التواضع
Another answer occurred to me. And that is that he would supplicate in this manner out of humility.
But he still was not satisfied and eventually concluded that the Imams considered their permissible activities such as eating, drinking, and marriage, to be sins for which they would seek the forgiveness of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. He then says that this is the definitive answer in this regard and hopes that Ibn al ‘Alqami is alive so that he may guide him to this discovery and remove his bewilderment.
But this answer, which he considers the definitive answer in this regard, is inharmonious with the Shari’ah of Islam which prohibits a person from making that which is lawful unlawful and which denounces monasticism. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِيْنَةَ اللّٰهِ الَّتِيْ أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ
Say, “Who has forbidden the adornment of [i.e., from] Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?”
Why would the Imams consider these activities to be unlawful; why would they consider marriage, which is one of the injunctions of Shari’ah, a sin when Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
فَانْكِحُوْا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ
Then marry those that please you of [other] women.
Likewise, why would they consider eating and drinking unlawful when Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
كُلُوْا مِنْ طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ
Eat from the good things with which We have provided you.
The only answer which can resolve this issue and is in harmony with the actual lives of the Imams is that the doctrine of infallibility, as asserted by the Shia, is baseless and that the Imams are not protected from mistakes and sins. For as much as this is in accordance with the divine texts of Shari’ah, it is also in harmony with the actual lives of the Imams. And only in this way would they serve as role models for their followers.
That is why the Prophets’ ‘alayhim al Salam were ordinary humans who ate food and went to the market places, and strived for the propagation of the message of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, underwent hardships at the hands of their people, and persevered the difficulties of this grave mission. All of this was so that they could serve as role models and so that they could pave the way and provide guidance for those to come after them.
Another point which invalidates the doctrine of infallibility from the books of the Shia is the differences of opinion and the contradiction which the Imams displayed regarding some issues. For the judgments and actions of the infallibles ought not be contradictory, rather they ought to compliment and support each other. Contradiction thus invalidates infallibility, which according to them is a provision for Imamah, and by extension it invalidates Imamah itself. This possibly, i.e. contradiction in the actions of the Imams, was the reason owing to which many Shia denounced Shi’ism. An example of this is the report documented by al Qummi and al Nawbakhti regarding what had transpired after the martyrdom of Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu. It read as follows:
قتل الحسين حارت فرقة من أصحابه وقالت قد اختلف علينا فعل الحسن و فعل الحسين، لأنه إن كان الذي فعله الحسن حقا واجبا صوابا من موادعته معاوية و تسليمه له عند عجزه عن القيام بمحاربته مع كثرة أنصار الحسين و ضعفهم، و كثرة أصحاب يزيد حتي قتل و قتل أصحابه جميعا باطل غير واجب، لأن الحسين كان أعذر في العقود من محاربة يزيد و طلب الصلح والموادعة من الحسن في القعود عن محاربة معاوية، و إن كان ما فعله الحسين حقا واجبا صوابا من مجاهدته يزيد حتي قتل و قتل ولده و أصحابه، فقعود الحسي و تركه مجاهدة معاوية و قتاله و معه العدد الكثير باكل،فشكو في إمامتهما و رجعوا فدخلوا في مقالة العوام
After the martyrdom of Hussain a faction of his followers disputed and said, “The stance of Hassan and the stance of Hussain have confused us. For if the stance of Hassan regarding reconciling with Muawiyah and relinquishing the Caliphate when being unable to subdue him despite the multitudes of supporters he had and their strength, is correct then the stance of Hussain regarding opposing Yazid to the extent where he and his comrades were killed is incorrect and unnecessary. Because Hussain had more reason to reconcile with Yazid and not initiate a rebellion against him than Hassan had when he chose not to oppose Muawiyah. And if the stance of Hussain regarding combatting Yazid till he and his comrades were eventually martyred is correct, then the stance of Hassan regarding his reconcilement with Muawiyah despite enjoying the support of multitudes of people is incorrect. They thus doubted the Imamah of both of them and assimilated themselves with the general public.
As for their difference of opinions in jurisprudential issues, it is very vast and was also one of the causes for many of the Shia detracting from Shi’ism. Sheikh al Ta’ifah al Tusi has attested to this and said that all their traditions are contradictory; to the extent that there is not a single report but that it is contradicted by another and there is not a single narration but that it is opposed by another. He has considered this to be the greatest flaws of the Shia dogma and the reason for many of the Shia detracting therefrom.
The narrations of two of the seminal works of the Shia, viz. al Tahdhib and al Istibsar, are the greatest testimony to this mammoth contradiction. Although al Tusi has tried to resolve this contradiction by stating that it was because of Taqiyyah, but he has just complicated it even more.
The Shia have in order to camouflage the drastically disparate views of their Imams, invented the doctrines of Taqiyyah and Bada’. One of the Shia discovered this and thus forsook Shi’ism. He says:
إن إئمة الرافضة وضعوا لشيعتهم مقالتين لا يظهرون معهما من أئمتهم علي كذب أبدا وهما القول بالبداء وإجازة التقية.
The spearheaders of the Shia have invented two ideas for their adherents owing to which they will never be able to discover any lie from their Imams. They are: Bada’ and the permissibility of Taqiyyah.
The books of the Shia report that at times whilst seated in one gathering the Imam would give three different answers to the same question and he would justify this with the excuses of Taqiyyah, the freedom of the Imam in issuing a ruling and the flexibility of the Imam in stating a ruling with increase or decrease.
A person of the Shia by the name ‘Umar ibn Riyah is reported to have went to the Imam to ask him a question. After the Imam gave him the ruling he went away and returned the next year and asked him the same question. This time the Imam gave him an answer different to the answer he had given him yesteryear. He was perplexed and said:
هذا خلاف ما أجبتني في هذه المسألة العام الماضي. فقال له أي الإمام: إن جوابنا خرج علي التقية. فشككت في أمره وإمامته. ثم خرج من عنده ولقي أحد الشيعة (ويدعي محمد بن قيس) وقص عليه ما حدث وقال له: وقد والله علم الله أني سألته عنها إلا وأنا صحيح العزم علي التدين بما يفتيني به وقوله في العمل به، فلا وجه لاتقائه إياي وهذه حالي. فقال له محمد بن قيس: فلعله حضرك من اتقاه فقال: ما حضر مجلسه في واحده من المسألتين غيري ولكن جوابيه جميعا خرجا علي وجه التبخيت-كذا- ولم ما أجاب به في العام الماضي فيجيب بمثله فرجع عن إمامته وقال: لا يكون إماما من يفتي بالباطل
“This is not the answer you had given me last year regarding the same issue.”
To which the Imam replied, “I gave my answer by way of Taqiyyah.”
This caused the person to doubt the Imam and his interactions. He thus left from there and met a Shia by the name Muhammad ibn Qais and told him of what had transpired and subsequently said, “Allah knows that I did not ask him the question but with the sincere intention of practicing on the ruling he would give me. There was thus no reason for him to practice Taqiyyah in responding to me.”
Muhammad ibn Qais said to him, “Possibly there was someone present who the Imam feared.”
He said, “No one was present besides me at both instances but it seems as if both the answers were given by way of estimation. Which is why he did not remember the answer he had given yesteryear and thus failed to give a similar answer (this year).”
He thus denounced the Imam and said, “A person who issues false rulings cannot be an Imam.”
Likewise al Kulayni has narrated the following from Zurarah ibn A’yan regarding Abu Jafar:
سألته عن مسألة فأجابني ثم جاءه رجل فسأله عنها فأجابه بخلاف ما أجابني ثم جاءه رجل فسأله عنها فأجابه بخلاف ما أجبني وأجاب صاحبي فلما خرج الرجلان قلت: يابن رسول الله! رجلان من أهل العراق من شيعتكم قدما يسألان فأجبت كل واحد منهما بغير ما أجبت صاحبيه فقال: يا زرارة إن هذا خير لنا ولكم، ولو اجتمعتم علي أمر واحد لصدقكم الناس علينا ولكان أقل لبقائنا وبقائكم
I asked him regarding an issue for which he gave me an answer. Subsequently another person came and asked regarding the same, he gave him an answer different to the one he gave me. Thereafter a third person came who asked the same question, the Imam gave him an answer different to the ones he gave me and my friend.
Hence when the two men left I asked him, “O son of Rasul Allah! Two men of Iraq who are your supporters came and asked the same question, but you gave each one of them an answer different to the answer you gave his two companions.”
He said, “O Zurarah. This is best for us and for you. For if you were to unite upon common grounds the people would accept what you say over what we say and that would result in shortening our existence as well as yours.”
At times he is likewise reported to have given three different interpretations for one verse of the Qur’an, and he justifies this by saying that the Imams have been given the prerogative of interpreting the verse as they desire.
You have noticed the different answers given in one gathering regarding one issue; this is inharmonious with infallibility.
All of this of course was based on the Shia perspective. Otherwise none of this had transpired. For it does not behove a man like Abu Jafar to issue a false ruling because of fear and by way Taqiyyah; his knowledge, piety and adherence to the din could not have allowed to do such. But these narrations are, however, the fabrication of those who invented the doctrine of infallibility in order to camouflage the discrepancies and contradictions which are the aftermath of their doings. Such contradictions which only suit their ignorance.
Lastly, their infallible Imam was unable to save them from arguing regarding Imamah, the most crucial aspect of their dogma. Hence you will find that they dispute with one another, forsake one another, curse one another, and excommunicate one another due to their difference of opinion regarding the number of Imams, their personalities, and the confusion of waiting for the return of the previous Imam or moving on to the follow the next. This is besides the many contradictory narrations pertaining to the various issues of din, comprising of both the fundamental and the secondary issues. Hence the alleged infallibility did not save them from dispute. The fact that it did not have any discernible impact on the Shia is a sign of it being non-existent.
Having studied all of this, it is possible that the doctrine of infallibility was inherited by the Shia from the Zoroastrians, because the Zoroastrians claim regarding their awaited leader and his companions that they will not lie, disobey Allah, or commit any minor or major sin.
In conclusion, someone might say that the doctrine of infallibility in today’s world does not hold any importance due to the line of Imams effectively ending in the year 260 A.H. All that remains is the appearance of the alleged promised Mahdi.
I say that this doctrine still has its impact in the Shia world today and it represents itself in various ways:
 ‘Abdullah Fayyad: Tarikh al Imamiyyah p. 157.
 Baqir Sharif al Qurashi: Hayat al Imam Musa ibn Jafar 1/111.
 Tahdhib al Lughah: under the root letters عصم
 Bihar al Anwar 25/211; Mir’at al ‘Uqul 4/352.
 Fikrah al Taqrib p. 299.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/350; Ibn Babawayh al Qummi: ‘Uyun Akhbar al Rida p. 326.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 4/518; Minhaj al Sunnah 4/60.
 Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/86; al Tanbih wa al Rad p. 18; al Farq Bayn al Firaq p. 21; al Milal wa al Nihal 1/174. See also: Rijal al Kashshi p. 106-107; al Razi: al Zinah p. 305; Tanqih al Maqal 2/183.
 Al Qummi/ al Maqalat wa al Firaq p. 20.
 Tathbit Dala’il al Nubuwwah 2/528.
 Rijal al Kashshi p. 185: Mu’min al Taq is the name which appears there. Shaitan al Taq means devil of the corner and Mu’min al Taq means the believer of the corner.
 Majallah al Fath 18/277.
 Donaldson: The belief of the Shia p. 369; Mahmud Subhi: Nazariyyah al Imamah p. 124.
 Ibn Babawayh: Ma’ani al Akhbar p. 132; Bihar al Anwar 25/194.
 Surah Al ‘Imran: 103.
 Surah Al ‘Imran: 101.
 Ma’ani al Akhbar p. 132; Bihar al Anwar 25/194-195.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/192-193; Ibn Babawayh: al Khisal 1/215; Ma’ani al Akhbar p. 123; Amali al Saduq p. 375-376.
 Al Mufid: al Nukat al I’tiqadiyyah p. 33-34; Tashih al I’tiqad p. 106; al Jilani: Tawfiq al Tatbiq p. 16.
 Al I’tiqadat p. 108-109.
 Man la Yahduruhu al Faqih 1/234.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/351.
 Man la Yahduruhu al Faqih 1/233.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/350-351.
 Ibid. 25/351.
 Refer to the section of consensus.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/351.
 Surah al Baqarah: 124.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/191.
 A’yan al Shia 1/458.
 Asl al Shia p. 59.
 The early scholars have differed as to the meaning of ‘Ahd. But the Shia only take that meaning which is in harmony with their desires.
 Al Tabarsi: Majma’ al Bayan 1/201; see also: al Tusi: al Tibyan 1/449; Bihar al Anwar 25/191.
 Surah al Saffat: 113.
 Tafsir al Tabari 2/20, onwards; Tafsir al Baghawi 1/112; Ibn ‘Attiyah: al Muharrar al Wajiz 1/250; al Qurtubi: al Jami’ li Ahkam al Qur’an 2/108; Tafsir Ibn Kathir 1/172-173; al Shawkani: Fath al Qadir 1/138; al Alusi: Ruh al Ma’ani 1/377; Tafsir al Qasimi 2/245-246.
 Surah al An’am: 82.
 Surah Luqman: 13.
 Surah al Anfal: 38.
 Even they take oppression to mean polytheism. Because their main objective is to invalidate the rule of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma due to them accepting iman after polytheism. And it did not part from them after they accepted iman according to the Shia. That is why al Kulayni says, “This verse nullifies the rule of every oppressor.” (Usul al Kafi 1/199)
 Al Alusi: Ruh al Ma’ani 1/377.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 1/301-303.
 Surah Hud: 18. The text appears in: al Tibyan 1/185.
 Yusuf ibn Ahmed al Zaidi: al Thamarat al Yani’ah (manuscript) 1/60.
 Usul al Kafi 1/198.
 Ibid. 1/197.
 Surah Luqman: 34.
 Surah Saba’: 3.
 See: Usul al Kafi: Chapter regarding Loyalty to the Imams being Compulsory 1/185: therein there are seventeen narrations; Chapter regarding the Imams being the Administrators of the Matters of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and the Treasurers of his Knowledge 1/192: therein there are six narrations; Chapter regarding the Imams being the Vicegerents of Allah on the Land and the Medium through which He is Reached 1/193; therein there are three narrations among many other chapters and narrations whose falsity is categorically known in the din of Islam.
 See: Ibn Mutahhar al Hilli: Kashf al Murad p. 390-391; Nahj al Mustarshidin p. 63; al Alfayn p. 56, onwards; al Qazwini: al Shia fi ‘Aqa’idihim p. 368-369; al Zanjani: ‘Aqa’id al Imamiyyah p. 77; Hashim Ma’roof al Husaini: Usul al Tashayyu’ p. 131-132.
 Surah al Nisa’: 115.
 Al Muntaqa p. 410.
 Surah al Nisa’: 59.
 Ibn ‘Abd al Barr: al Tamhid 4/264.
 Surah al Nisa’: 165.
 Ibn Taymiyah: al Fatawa 19/66.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 2/104.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 3/248.
 Surah al Baqarah: 136.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 3/174.
 Surah al Nisa’: 59.
 Minhaj al Sunnah 2/105.
 Surah al Nisa’: 69.
 Surah al Jinn: 23.
 Nahj al Balaghah 3/175.
 Nahj al Balaghah p. 82.
 Nahj al Balaghah p. 104.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/207.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/203.
 Bihar al Anwar 25/203-205.
 Surah al A’raf: 32.
 Surah al Nisa’: 3.
 Surah al A’raf: 160; Surah Taha: 81.
 Al Qummi: al Maqalat wa al Firaq p. 25; al Nawbakhti; Firaq al Shia p. 25-26.
 Al Maqalat wa al Firaq p. 78; Firaq al Shia p. 55-56. This person was Sulaiman ibn Jarir who is the eponym of the Sulaimaniyyah, a sub-sect of the Zaidiyyah.
 Firaq al Shia p. 59-61.
 Usul al Kafi 1/65.
 Usul al Kafi 1/265-266.
 Tathbit Dala’il al Nubuwwah 1/179.
 Some of their texts in this regard will be cited in the section of occultation and the Mahdi in Sha Allah.Back to top