Can a Five Year Old Boy Become an Imam?

Can a Five Year Old Boy Become an Imam?

The session began on time. Everyone was anxiously waiting to begin the discussion. Dr. Fahimi formulated his question thus.

Dr. Fahimi: Let us assume that Imam Hasan 'Askari did have a son. But how can one believe that a five year old lad is appointed to the position of wilayat and Imamate? How is it possible that he is given the charge of protecting and effecting the laws of God at that young age and is made the Imam, the leader of the people and God's Proof on earth?

Mr. Hoshyar: It appears that you have imagined the position of the Prophethood and the Imamate to be a trivial thing not requiring any precondition or criterion for anyone who is supposed to protect and effect the divine laws! Moreover, it would seem that you do not require any qualifications or personal character and perfection in a person who is to assume such a divinely ordained position --even to the extent that it is possible that Abu Sufyan could take the position of the prophethood occupied by Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah and Talha and Zubayr could assume the Imamate instead of 'Ali b. Abi Talib.

However, a little attention will lead you to the traditions reported on the authority of the Ahlul Bayt that the matter of the leadership and guidance of the community is not that simple. Indeed, Prophethood is a divine office that requires a qualified individual to be designated to carry out its functions derived from a special spiritual relationship between God and His emissary, a prophet. More importantly, such an individual is endowed with hidden knowledge, and knowledge about God's laws and injunctions which have been revealed to him through God's special favor on him and, hence, both he and the message are free from any error or falsehood.

Similarly, wilayat and Imamate are extremely important offices. The person occupying that position is required to preserve the divine laws and teachings of the Prophet without committing any error or inadvertence in their transmission and their promulgation in the community. Moreover, that person has to be in contact with the hidden source of divine knowledge so that he may receive God's guidance in understanding and illuminating His revelation for humanity. It is because of his knowledge and the actions based on divine guidance that he attains the position of being proclaimed God's Proof (hujjat) and His manifestation on earth.

It is obvious that not every person on this earth is capable of fulfilling these requirements and effecting the laws of God in human society. It is necessary that the person assuming this sensitive position should be endowed with a spiritual and human perfection so as to establish proper contact with the divine source and receive the knowledge and retain it for the community. Moreover, this person must possess both physical and mental qualities most appropriate to the execution of his functions as the leader and guide of the Muslim community. He cannot afford to be fallible and erroneous in conveying the religious truth necessary for the well being of humanity.

Hence, it must be maintained that the Prophet and the Imams are the best in creation. More importantly, it is because of these personal qualities that God, the Almighty, appoints them in the position of a Prophet and an Imam. These qualities are present in them from the time they come into this world. At the appropriate time and as the situation demands, and provided there are no obstacles, they become manifest. It is only then that these individuals become selected and appointed as Prophets and Imams with the mission to carry and effect God's ordinances for humanity. This manifest designation may occur at times after they attain the age of maturity, and at other times even while they are younger in age.

The Qur'an provides the best example of the appointment to the prophethood at a very young age. In the example of Jesus (peace be upon him), the Qur'an speaks about the miracle of Jesus while he was still a baby in the cradle. At that time Jesus introduced himself as a prophet who had brought the revealed message for the Children of Israel. Thus, he says:

Lo, I am God's servant; God has given me the Book, and made me a Prophet. Blessed He has made me, wherever I may be; and He has enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live. (1)

From this and other verses of the Quran it is clear that Jesus (peace be upon him) from his very early childhood had been appointed as the Prophet and had been given the Book.

In light of the above, it is correct to say that there is no objection to maintaining that a person could establish relations with the divine sources of knowledge at a very early age and could be appointed to undertake the critical responsibility of promulgating the divine laws with utmost care and accuracy. Moreover, he could be made completely capable of performing his task and safeguarding the divine trust.

Incidentally, Imam Jawad (peace be upon him), at the time of his father's death was nine or seven years old. It was because of his young age that some among the Shi'is had doubts about his being the Imam. To resolve this problem some of the leading members of the community came to see Imam Jawad and asked him several difficult and complex questions. To all these the Imam was able to give sufficient and satisfactory answers. Moreover, they also witnessed some miracles from him which removed their doubt in his being their Imam at that young age.(2)

Imam Rida had appointed Imam Jawad as his successor and when he found people surprised at his designation he said: "Jesus (peace be upon him) also became a Prophet and a Proof of God at a young age.(3)"

Imam 'Ali Naqi also became the Imam at the age of six years and five months, following his father's death.(4)

So, Dr. Fahimi, the Prophets and the Imams are specially created to carry out the functions assigned to them by God. Hence, it is not proper to compare them with ordinary people and their capacities.

The Gifted Children

Often among ordinary people one comes across rare individuals endowed with excellent intelligence and immense potential. In fact, they manifest unusual mental powers and faculties of perception superior to an individual of, let us say, forty years of age.

Abu 'Ali Sina, known as Avicenna to Western readers, is regarded among the geniuses of his times. In his autobiography he writes:

Later we all moved to Bukhara, where I was given teachers of Qur'an and Arabic letters (adab). By the time I was ten years old, I had completed the study of the Quran and a major part of Arabic letters, so much so that people wondered at my attainments. . . . Then, under the guidance of al-Natili, I began to read the Isagoge [of the Greek neoplatonist philosopher Porphyrius] . . .Almagest [of Ptolemy]. . . . Then I took up medicine and began to read books written on this subject. Medicine is not one of the difficult sciences, and in a very short time I undoubtedly excelled in it, so that physicians of merit studied under me. . . . At the same time I carried on debates and controversies in jurisprudence. At this point I was sixteen years old.(5)

It is said that Fadil Hindi had mastered all rational and traditional sciences by the age of twelve, and had begun to write a book. The list of the gifted people is long. One only has to open a history of the world to realize that a number of universally recognized individuals were endowed at a young age with uncommon intelligence and a capacity to learn and leave for posterity a wealth of knowledge in different disciplines.

Dr. Fahimi, if other children can be endowed with unique potentials and turn out to be a genius, capable of memorizing hundreds of things and a variety of subjects -- provoking wonderment in others -- why should it be inconceivable that God in His wisdom appointed the twelfth Imam, God's authentic proof who happens to be a five year old, to occupy the position of wilayat and to be the exponent and protector of God's ordinances? In fact, the Imams had predicted his attaining that high position at an incredibly young age. Imam Baqir said: "The one who will be entrusted with the command (sahib al-'amr) will be youngest in age and less known than all of us.(6)"



1. The Quran, Surah Maryam: 29

2. Ithbat al-wasiyya, pp. 186-89

3. Ibid., p. 185

4. Ibn Shahr Ashub, Manaqib, Vol. 4, p. 397; Ithbat al-wasiyya, p. 194

5. Ibn al-Qifti, Ta'rikh al-hukama', pp. 413-417

6. Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 51, p. 38