The Meaning of Imam (4)

The Meaning of Imam (4)

Affirmation of the Previous Section

Much of the argument of Shi'ism concerning the succession to the Prophet rests on the belief that during the last days of his illness the Prophet in the presence of some of his companions asked for some paper and ink so that something could be written which, if obeyed by the Muslims, would prevent them from going astray. Some of those present considered the Prophet to be too ill to be able to dictate anything and said, "The Book of God is sufficient for us." There was so much clamor raised over this matter that the Holy Prophet told those present to leave, for in the presence of a prophet there should not be nay noise or clamor.

Considering what has been said above about hadiths concerning succession and the events that followed upon the death of the Prophet, especially the fact that Ali was not consulted in the question of selecting the Prophet's successor, Shi'ites conclude that the Holy Prophet had wanted to dictate his definitive views about the person who was to succeed him but was not able to do so. The purpose of the utterances of some of those present to have been to cause confusion and prevent this final decision from being clearly announced. Their interruption of the Holy Prophet's discourse does not seem to be what it appears outwardly, that is concern with the possibility that the Prophet might utter incongruous words due to the intensity of his illness.

For first of all, throughout his illness the Holy Prophet was not heard to have uttered any meaningless or incongruous words and no such thing has been transmitted concerning him. Moreover, according to the principles of Islam the Prophet is protected by God from uttering delirious or senseless words and is inerrant. Secondly, if the words mentioned by some of those present on that occasion before the Prophet were meant to be of a serious nature there would have been on place for the next phrase, "The Book of God is sufficient for us." In order to prove that the Prophet might utter incongruous words under unusual circumstances the reason of his serious illness would have been used rather than the claim that with the Quran there was on need of the Prophet's words. For it could not be hidden from any Muslim that the very text of the Book of God considers the obedience to the Holy Prophet to be obligatory and his words to be in a sense like the Word of God. According to the text of the Holy Quran, Muslims must obey the injunctions of both God and the Prophet.

Thirdly, an incident involving illness occurred during the last days of the life of the first caliph, who in his last will and testament chose the second caliph as his successor. When Uthman was writing the will according to the order caliph, the caliph fainted. Yet the second caliph did not repeat the words that had been uttered in the case of the Prophet according to the hadith of "Pen and Paper."

This fact has been confirmed in a hadith related by Ibn Abbas. And it has been accounted of the second caliph that he said, "Ali deserved the caliphate but the Quraysh would not have been able to bear his caliphate, for had he become caliph he would have forced the people to accept the pure truth and follow the right path. Under his caliphate they would not have been able to transgress the boundaries of justice and thus would have sought to engage in war with him." Obviously according to religious principles, one must force him who has deviated from the truth to follow the truth; one must not abandon the truth for the sake of one who has abandoned it.

When the first caliph was informed that some of the Muslim tribes had refused to pay religious tax, he ordered war and said, "If they do not give me the tithes which they gave to the Prophet, I shall fight against them." Evidently, by this saying he meant most of all that truth and justice must revived all costs. Surely, the problem of the legitimate caliphate was more important and significant than tithes, and Shi'ism believes that the same principle applied by the first caliph to this matter should have been applied by the whole early community to the problem of succession to the Holy Prophet.

The Imamate and Its Role in the Exposition of the Divine Sciences

In the discussion of prophecy it was mentioned that, according to the immutable and necessary law of general guidance, each created species is guided through the path of genesis and generation toward the perfection and felicity of its own kind. The human species is not an exception to this general law. Man must be guided through the very "instinct" of seeking reality and through thought concerning his life in society in such a way that his wellbeing in this world and the next is guaranteed.

In other words, to attain human happiness and perfection, man must accept a series of doctrines and practical duties and base his life upon them. It has, moreover, already been said that the weay to understand that total program for life called religion is not through reason but through revelation and prophecy, which manifests itself in certain pure beings among mankind who are called prophets. It is the prophets who receive from God, through revelation, the knowledge of men's duties and obligations as human beings and who make these known to men, so that by fulfilling them men may attain felicity.

It is evident that in the same way that this reasoning proves the necessity for knowledge to guide men to the attainment of happiness and perfection, it also proves the necessity for the existence of individuals who preserve intact the total body of that knowledge and who instruct the people when necessary. Just as the Divine Compassion necessitates the existence of persons who come to know the duties of mankind through revelation, so also it makes it necessary that these human duties and actions of celestial origin remain forever preserved in the world and as the need arises be presented and explained to mankind. In other words, there must always be individuals who preserve God's religion and expound it when necessary.

The person who bears the duty of guarding and preserving the Divine message after it is revealed and is chosen by God for this function is called the Imam, in the same way that the person who bears the prophetic spirit and has the function of receiving Divine injunctions and laws from God is called that Prophet. It is possible for the imamate and prophecy (nubuwwat) either to be joined in one person or to be separate. The proof give previously to demonstrate the inerrancy of prophets, also demonstrates the inerrancy of the Imams, for God must preserve His true religion intact and in such state that it can be propagated among mankind at all times, And this is not possible without inerrancy, without Divine protection against error.

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