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The Twelve Imams



The Twelve Imams

According to the School of the Caliphate 

A Justification by A Shiite Scholar


Al-Juwayni reports that Abdullah ibn Abbas remarked that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said, "I am the chief of the Prophets and Ali ibn Abi Talib is the chief of successors, and after me my successors shall be twelve, the first of them being Ali ibn Abi Talib and the last of them being Al Mahdi." 

Al-Juwayni has also mentioned another tradition from Ibn 'Abbas (r.a.) that he narrates from the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.):

"Certainly my Caliphs and my legatees and the Proofs of Allah upon his creatures after me are twelve. The first of them is my brother and the last of them is my (grand) son." 

He was asked: "O Messenger of Allah, who is your brother?" 

He said, "Ali ibn Abi Talib" 

Then they asked, "And who is your son?" 

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) replied, "Al Mahdi, the one who will fill the earth with justice and equity like it would be brimming with injustice and tyranny. And by the One Who has raised me as a warner and a give of good tidings, even if a day remains for the life of this world, the Almighty Allah will prolong this day to an extent till he sends my son Mahdi, then he will make Ruhullah 'Isa ibn Maryam (a.s.) to descend and pray behind him (Mahdi). And the earth will be illuminated by his radiance. And his power will reach to the east and the west." 

Al-Juwayni also narrates from his chain of narrators that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) informed: 

"I and Ali and Hasan and Husayn and nine of the descendants of Husayn are the purified ones and the infallible." 


The Hidden Imam

   The core of the Shi'ite religious worldview is the Hidden Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, "The Guided One." While the stories of the first eleven Imams are historical in nature, the history of the twelfth Imam is mystical and miraculous. Born in 868 AD / 255 AH, Abu'l-Kasim Muhammad (which is the name of the Prophet himself), and when Hasan al-Askari, the Eleventh Imam, died in 874 AD / 260 AH, the seven year old boy declared himself to be the Twelfth Imam and went into hiding. The Shi'ites believed that he hid himself in a cave below a mosque in Samarra ; this cave is blocked by a gate which the Shi'ites call Bab-al Ghayba , or the "Gate of Occultation." This is one of the most sacred sites in Shi'a Islam, and the faithful gather here to pray for the return of the Twelfth Imam.

   The central Shi'a doctrines revolving around the Hidden Imam are the doctrines of Occultation (Ghayba ) and Return (Raj'a ) . The Doctrine of Occultation is simply the belief that God hid Muhammad al-Mahdi away from the eyes of men in order to preserve his life. God has miraculously kept him alive since the day he was hidden in 874 AD / 260 AH; eventually God will reveal al-Mahdi to the world and he will return to guide humanity.

   The Occultation has two distinct stages, the Lesser Occultation and the Greater Occultation. In the Lesser Occultation, the Hidden Imam continued to communicate with humanity through representatives. Since the Imam was the spiritual guide or light to the rest of humanity, the Lesser Occultation only removed the Imam's body from the world, not his spiritual guidance. However, under the threat of orthodox Muslims, the Hidden Imam entered the period of Greater Occultation which is still continuing. In the Greater Occultation, the Imam is still the spiritual guide and light of the world with one exception: there is no longer any direct communication between humanity and the Imam. The Occultation, then, is a profound spiritual tragedy for the world. It means that the spiritual guide to the earth, the gift of God to humanity, which, throughout the ages has lived, breathed, and conversed with humanity, is out of reach. The Imam is the center of light in the world; the Occultation is the extinguishing of that light for the rest of humanity. The Shi'a world view, then, is profoundly tragic and nostalgic. The Shi'ite longs for a return to a time when spiritual truth walked among us, a time when human perfection stood as an icon for all humans to emulate.

   The Hidden Imam, however, will eventually leave his Greater Occultation and appear (zuhur ) to the world of humanity. This return is the most significant event in the future for the Shi'ite faithful and has thunderous eschatological consequences. This return will occur shortly before the Final Judgement and the end of history. Imam Mahdi will return at the head of the forces of righteousness and do battle with the forces of evil in one, final, apocalyptic battle. When evil has been defeated once and for all, the Imam Mahdi will rule the world for several years under a perfect government and bring about a perfect spirituality among the peoples of the world. After the Imam Mahdi has reigned for several years, Jesus Christ will return (raj'a ), as will Husayn and others. It is the return of the dead that falls under the Doctrine of Return; the Mahdi will only appear to humanity.

   Twelver Shi'ism is, then, a deeply eschatological religion. Important to understanding Shi'a religious belief is the understanding that the end of time will be preceded by an era of perfect justice and spirituality. The world, for the Shi'ite, is a deeply immoral, degenerate, and corrupt place; these are the necessary preludes to the appearance of Imam Mahdi. Like Christianity, Shi'ism is also a deeply prophetic religion. Like Christian belief, the end of time and the appearance of the Mahdi will be preceded by a number of events foretold in prophecy. The Shi'ite, then, like many Christians, lives in a world full of signs of the impending concluding chapters of history. This is vitally important in understanding Shi'a culture and political theory. Most of Iranian history can only be understood in relationship to the Doctrine of Return and the prophecies associated with it. For instance, during the Iranian Revolution, several Iranians believed that Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni, the spiritual and theoretical head of the Revolution, was the Hidden Imam returned to the world of humanity. While Khumayni never admitted this, he never denied it either. In many ways, the Revolutionaries believed that they were engineering or inaugurating the beginning of the reign of justice in the world, just as the radical Protestant English who settled America believed that they were inaugurating the one thousand year rule of saints that would precede the end of the world. Contemporary Iranian politics can in no way be divorced from the fundamental religious tenets of Shi'a Islam.



Shi’a – Sunni Differences as Explained by a Shiite Cleric


INTRODUCTION """"""""""""

There is no difference of opinion amongst Muslim schools that the religion of Allah is Islam; that the only way to know Islam is through the Book of Allah and the Sunna of the Holy Prophet; and that the Book of Allah is what is known as the Quran, without any "addition" or "deletion". The difference is in the interpretation of some of the verses of the Quran; and in believing or not believing some of the Sunna as genuine; or in its interpretation. This difference of approach has led towards the difference in some basic principles and some laws of religion.


All the Muslims argee that Allah is one, Muhammad (PBUH&HF) is His last prophet, and that one day Allah will resurrect all the human beings, and all will be questioned about their beliefs and actions. All of them agree that anyone who does not believe in any of the above three basic principles is not a Muslim. Also, they agree that anybody denying the famous tenets of Islam, like salat (prayers), sawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), zakat (religious tax), etc., or believing that the famous sins, like drinkig wine, adultery, stealing, gambling, lie, murder, etc., are not sins, is not a Muslim, though he might have been believing in Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF). That is because to deny such things is like to deny the prophethood of Muhammad and his shariah (Divine Laws).




Shiats say that Imam must be appointed by God; that appointment may be known through the declaration of the Prophet or the preceding Imam. The Sunni scholars say that Imam (or Caliph, as they prefer to say) can be either elected, or nominated by the preceding Caliph, or selected by a committee, or may gain the power through a military coup (as was in the case of Muawiyah).

Shia scholars say that Imam must be sinless. The Sunni scholars (including Mutazilites) say that sinlessness is not a condition for leadership. Even if he is tyrant and sunk in sins (like in the case of Yazid, or Today's King Fahd), the majority of the scholars from the schools of Hanbali, Shafi'i, and Maliki discourage people to rise against that Caliph. They think that they should be persevered.

Shiats say that Imam must possess above all such qualities as knowledge, bravery, justice, wisdom, piety, love of God etc. The Sunni scholars say it is not necessary. A person inferior in these qualities may be elected in preference to a person having all these qualities of superior degree.

Shiats say that Ali was appointed by Allah to be the successor of the Prophet, and that the Prophet declared it on several occasions. More than one hundred of those occasions are recorded in the history. The Sunni scholars believe that the Prophet did not appoint anybody to be his successor. This is despite the fact that there are many traditions in the six authentic Sunni collections which support this assignment.

Shi'ite and Sunni Differences

PLACE OF REASON IN RELIGION """""""""""""""""""""""""""

This is one of the most important distinctions between the Sunnis on one side, and Shi'ites on another. To be more exact, I should have used the word Asharites, in place of Sunnis since a vast number of Sunnis nowadays are Asharites; Mutazilites have become extinct a long time ago, though some of the great scholars of the recent time like Justice Amir Ali were Mutazilites.

Anyhow, the Shiats say that irrespective of religious commandments, there is real merit or demerit in different courses of actions, and it is because a certain thing is good that God orders it, and because the other is bad that He forbids it. Sunni scholars deny this conception. They say that nothing is good or evil in itself. Only what God has commanded us is good and what He has forbidden us is evil. If something is forbidden by God it is bad; then if God cancels the first order, and allows it, it will become good, after being bad. In other words, the Shiats say that God has forbidden us to tell lie because it is bad; the Sunnis say that lie has become bad because God has forbidden it.

Shiats recognize the relation of cause and effect. Sunni scholars deny it. They say that there is no cause except Allah. And it is just a habit of Allah that whenever, for example, we drink water He quenches our thirst. Based upon the above difference of attitude about the position of reason in religion are the following differences: Shiats say that God never acts without purpose or aimlessly. All His actions are based on wisdom and intelligent purpose (e.g., Because it is not commendable, rationally, to act without purpose). The Sunni scholars on the other hand, because of their denouncement of rational merit or demerit, say that it is quite possible for God to act aimlessly. It follows that, according to the Shiats, God does nothing which has inherent demerit in it. The Sunnis deny it. Shiats say that all actions of Allah are intended for the benefit of His creatures. Because He Himself has no need; and if His actions become devoid of benefits for His creation also, they will become aimless, which is rationally not commendable. The Sunnis deny it, because of their stand about rational merit or demerit.


GRACE (Lutf or Tafaddul)


Based on the above differences, there is a difference about their attitude towards the Grace of Allah. Shiats say that the Grace is morally, incumbent upon Allah. They say Grace is the actions of God which would help to bring His creatures closer to His devotion and obedience and facilitate their moral correction (which is) morally incumbent on Him. Allah has commanded us to be just, while He Himself treats us with something better, namely Grace (tafaddul).

The Sunni scholars, on the other hand, say:

"God leades astray whom He wills and guides to right path whom He wills, and it is not incumbent upon God, the Most High, to do something that may be best for the creature." Sunni reference: Creed of an-Nasafi

we like. At the same time, He has taught us through prophets, what is right and what is wrong. Now, as He is Omniscient, He knows what will be our actions in different times of our life. But this knowledge does not make Him responsible for our actions more than a meteorologist can be responsible for cyclones and storms, if his forecasts come true. True forecasts are the result, not the cause of the impending event. The Sunni scholars on the other hand say that Allah is the Creator of all of our acts:

"No act of any individual, even though it is done purely for his benefit is independent of the will of Allah for its existence; and there does not occur in either in physical or extra terrestrial world the wink of an eye, the hint of a thought, or the most sudden glance, except by the decree of Allah...of His power, desire and will. This includes evil and good, benefit and hurt, success and failure, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, and polytheism or belief."

Sunni reference: al-Ghazali (as quoted in Shia of India, p43)



Based upon their belief of LUTF (Grace), the Shiats believe that it is incumbent upon Allah to send prophets and their successors in this world to put people on right path. The Sunni scholars say that it is not incumbent upon Allah, because they do not accept necessity of Grace.

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