QUESTION: As we know, the true Twelver Imami sect is called “twelver” (ithna `ashariyya) since its followers believe that after the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), his successors were twelve people. And among all of his ‘ummah (community), they are the sole group who hold this belief; thus, the traditions about the twelve Imams which both Shi‘a and Sunnis have narrated – and whose origin from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is undeniable – can only be applied to the Shi‘a sect among all Muslims. Naturally, the true sect will be limited to this group. In spite of all this, it is said that from some traditions – a few of which have been narrated in the book of Sulaim – it is possible to understand that the number of the Imams is thirteen, and this view has also been attributed to Ibn Sahl al-Nawbakhti. If, as it is said, a tradition with this content exists (or if Nawbakhti himself held this view, though this appears unlikely), how can it be explained and affirmed?
ANSWER: We have given sufficient explanation about the tradition or traditions that indicate that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is thirteen in the treatise “Clarity of Vision for One Who Follows the Twelve Imams.” There, we have clarified that the a tradition with this meaning does not exist; moreover, even if such a tradition were to exist, it is a tradition with a single narrator and with regard to principles of religion, beliefs, and issues in which attaining certainty is essential, traditions with single narrators are not relied upon.
In such an instance, only a firm rational argument or a tradition that is consecutively narrated (mutawatir) and certain to have originated from an infallible can be relied upon.
Furthermore, traditions that are mutawatir and have even passed the limits of tawatur (consecutive narration) indicate that the number of the Imams is twelve. In such a situation, if a single non-certain tradition is found in opposition to all these traditions, what creditability can it have, and how can a researcher rely on it? In addition, in the Musnad of Ahmad alone, it has been narrated through thirty-odd chains of narrators from the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is twelve, and in the Sahih of Muslim this point has been narrated through eight chains, and likewise in the remaining collections, Sahihs, Sunans (books of the sunnah), and books of the Ahl al-Sunnat, this topic has been referred to numerous times.
In Shi‘a books as well traditions have been narrated with hundreds of chains that the Imams will be twelve, all of which were narrated by well-known companions and followers (tabi`in) up to two centuries before the birth of the twelfth Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him), and in reality this is counted as a type of prediction and information about the future.
In spite of all this, it was said that a tradition has been narrated from Sulaim that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) said to Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him): “You and twelve people from your progeny are the true Imams.”
The reality is that in the present text and the reliable texts that before our time were in the possession of the scholars, this tradition did not exist. Moreover, there are many traditions in the book of Sulaim ibn Qays itself that explicitly mention the Imams and their names as twelve people, and have specified the names of those twelve personages from Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him) to Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him) in the same order in which the Shi‘a believe.
This book, written in the first century after the Hijra, is reliable and the sum of its material clearly establishes the truth of the Imami school, since it contains news about Imams who were not even born in that time. Firm signs and evidence indicates the correctness of this book.
Now, if we suppose the book contains such a tradition, that tradition can be interpreted in light of other books of traditions. That is, the intent of the tradition is to indicate the number of the Imams and that they are from the progeny of ‘Ali (peace be upon him), and since the majority – eleven out of twelve – of the Imams are from his progeny, it was explained in these words – which, it is likely, have not even been narrated in entirety.
Ibn Nadim attributed this view opposing the traditions regarding twelve Imams to Abu Sahl Nawbakhti, which appears not to be correct, since Abu Sahl Nawbakhti is not a person to express such an opinion, which has no evidence worthy of consideration. In Shi‘a books of biographies and rijal (biographies of the narrators of hadith), in which the Nawbakhti family has been mentioned in detail, such a view has not been related regarding Abu Sahl in the section pertaining to him or to others, all have praised his school of thought, belief, and action. It appears these are the same types of mistakes that occur in the books of biographies and sects, and the writers of which have passed over them out of carelessness.
Attributing such baseless beliefs to well-known individuals has no result other than to mislead uninformed or ill-informed people.
In any case, the issue of Mahdawiyyah (messianism) and concealment and the remaining issues exclusive to the twelfth Imam (peace be upon him) have been in discussion since the beginning of Islam. Rather, in accordance to what is in the extant Torah and Bible, the precedent of this belief has roots in Divine religions previous to Islam and in the Old and New Testaments.
Principality of Reason or Narration in Specifying the Imam (peace be upon him)
QUESTION: In the issue of Imamah, between reason and narration, which is given precedence? In other words, are the issues pertaining to the topic of Imamah primarily provable through intellectual proofs or narrated proofs?
ANSWER: As can be understood from the question itself, issues are of two types. One type are the issues that are ascertained through reason and are accepted through application of logical procedures and intellectual proofs, such as proving the existence of Allah, His essential attributes of perfection, and the necessity of prophecy, i.e. the proof of prophecy in general. The other type are those issues that are proved solely through narration, meaning that there is no way of proving them except revelation and relation by a truthful relater, that is, a prophet or Imam whose prophecy or Imamah is already established. Among these issues, there are also some issues that can be established in both ways. Of course, in this case the narrated proofs are a form of guidance towards the intellectual proofs.
The researcher must be well attentive to this aspect of issues and must see which discussion can be established through reason, which through narration alone, and which through both methods. And in each case, he should commence according to the method peculiar to that issue so that he can reach an appropriate conclusion. Otherwise, if he wishes to enter into an exclusively narrational issue through reason, it is natural that he will not reach a valid conclusion.
It is possible that some may raise a question regarding whether the principality of reason takes precedence in the issue of Imamah over the principality of narration or not.
The answer is that that in the issue of Imamah, like the issue of prophecy and the conditions of a prophet, proving the principle of general Imamah, i.e. proving the principle of a need for the existence of the Imam and the conditions of the Imam, is accomplished through reasoning. Of course, if the issue of Imamah were among the issues that are outside the limits of understanding of human reason and reasoning did not understand it independently, it could be proved by narrational evidence alone, i.e. the guidance of the Prophet. This is because reliance on narrational evidence with regard to the principle of Imamah, as opposed to the principle of prophecy, does not involve circular reasoning, though in the issue of prophecy it involves circular reasoning.
Thus, the narrational proofs of Imamah can also be regarded, similar to the narrational proofs of the principle of prophecy, as guidance to the decree of reason.
Issues such as the necessity of infallibility, how the Imam is appointed, and the fact that this affair has not been delegated to the people are principles pertaining to reason. And existing narrational proofs affirm this decree of reason.
It is obvious that with groups who, like the Asha’ira, do not believe in rational good and evil, discussion can only be held through those narrational proofs. Some of the effects and benefits of the existence of the Imam and his distinctions can only be proved through narrational proofs, just as these effects and unique traits are proved for the Prophet through narrational proofs.
In the issue of the specific Imamah (the Imamah of a particular person) as well, like the specific prophecy in which explicit declaration by the previous prophet is a proof of the prophecy of the following prophet, the prophet’s declaration of the Imam’s Imamah and likewise the declaration by the previous Imam of the Imamah of the following Imam is a proof of his Imamah. There is this difference that the principle way of establishing prophecy is a miracle, since the only true way to establish the prophecy of the first prophet is through a miracle and this is the only reliable evidence of the claim of prophecy, though the prophets after his prophecy can be established both by declaration of the previous prophets and by miracle, and the Divine way has also been to send prophets along with miracles, since the establishment of prophecy through a miracle is comprehensible by all.
However, the method of declaration by the previous prophet is only an authoritative proof for believers in that previous prophet. It is for this reason that we say that the method of establishment by miracle is a general way, which is an authoritative proof for all. Still, establishing the occurrence of a miracle at the hands of a prophet is limited to narrational methods for one who is absent from the time and place of occurrence of the miracle. Certainly, the Glorious Qur’an is the only miracle whose establishment has no need of narrational proofs, since it is existent, just as the explicit declaration of the Qur’an that it is impossible to bring its like indicates that it is a miracle.
In the issue of Imamah, the Imamah of the first Imam is established solely by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) declaration, and since it has been proven in the discussion of general Imamah that the Imamah of the Imam is through specification by the Prophet by command of Allah, the miracle that is manifested by the Imam, just as it is an independent proof of the truth of claim of Imamah, is also a proof of the declaration of the prophet, if such a declaration by the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is not in our hands. Reliance on rational proofs in the issue of specific Imamah is in order to establish the existence of a specific declaration.
For example: it can be said that it is obligatory for the prophet, in that Allah, in his absolute wisdom, has commanded the prophet to explicitly declare the Imamah, to specify and introduce the Imam after himself, even if that declaration is no longer accessible by us or has become ambiguous or its purport has become subject to doubt. Since the claim of a declaration has not been made except with regard to a specific personality – Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) – rationally, the person specified by Allah and the Prophet is not other than ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him).
Or it can be said that since the condition of the Imam – who is appointed by Allah and the prophet to lead humankind in religious and worldly affairs – is infallibility, and the claim of infallibility has not been made for anyone except ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him), rationally ‘Ali ibn Abi Taib (peace be upon him) is the appointed and infallible Imam.
Similarly, with regard to the twelfth Imam it is said that according to narrational proofs, the world is never without an Imam and Proof (hujjat) of Allah – apparent or hidden – and in this long period of over a thousand years, the chain of Imamah is not to be severed. And since the claim of Imamah has not been forwarded for anyone other than that personage, or if it has been made its invalidity has been proved, aside from him, who is in concealment, no one else is the Imam and he is the Imam. And if he is not the Imam, other objections discussed previously in the issue of the general Imamah will once again arise.
This is though there is no justification for raising them, since the result of such discussions leads to matters such as the performance of evil by Allah, the Wise, and so forth, from the like of which Allah’s essence is pure and free.
Ulama and the Validity of Our Beliefs
There is many times in which we long for the opportunity to set time aside and ponder, an act we hardly have time to approach in this day and age. Thinking gives us a broader view, and usually when we find a view toward something, we follow it. Delving further into the matter helps us to become knowledgeable about it, and if we become satisfied we become a believer.
Has it ever occurred to you to ask what extent the beliefs and views you hold are valid? Can you really rely on them? What should you do if you become doubtful? And in general how can you become certain about your beliefs?
One of the ways we Muslims can become sure about the validity of our beliefs and their congruity with revelation, the Holy Quran, and the teachings of the Greatest Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and those of his progeny is to double check them with trusted and knowledgeable religious scholars. The issue of gaining reassurance in this matter has been a topic of discussion since the time of Greatest Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and his progeny. People of those times were able to receive direct feedback and answers from the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and or from religious scholars of the time. (1)
The following is an example of how this matter took place:
Sayyid Abd al-Azim Hasani (2), a companion of Imam Hadi (A.S.), narrates:
‘I entered upon my Imam, Imam Hadi (A.S.). When his gaze fell upon me he said, “Praise be upon you for indeed you are our true companion.”
I said, “O grandson of the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) I want to utter my beliefs for you to make sure they are correct to hold on to until the day I meet my Lord.”
The Imam accepted my request, and I began talking about my belief in Allah (SWT) and His oneness. I then expressed my belief in the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) and in his successors Amir al-Mu’minin Ali (A.S.) and his Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), of which I named them one by one until I reached Imam Hadi(A.S.). I referred to him as my Imam and leader.
At this point the Imam said: “After me my son Hassan will be the Imam and successor. Are you aware of how the people will be during my son’s successor?” Upon the question the Imam gave a short explanation about the occultation of the twelfth Imam.
I then said, “I confess that one who befriends you is Allah’s friend, and your enemy is Allah’s enemy. I confess in the Day of Judgment and in the obligatory acts after Wilayat (Mastership), which are Salat (daily prayers), Zakat (Alms), fasting, Hajj, Jihad (holy battle), enjoining good, and forbidding evil. (3)
Once I was through expressing my beliefs, the Imam confirmed my beliefs and commanded me to stay faithful to them. The Imam then prayed that I remain steadfast in my religion.’
The question for us however still remains on whether we too have the opportunity to confirm our beliefs?
As a matter of fact in this day and age the need to confirm our beliefs in a similar fashion is more than ever. Just as the supplication of Ale Yasin teaches us this matter, if we want to protect our beliefs from the many different alterations and commentaries, we must refer to Ulama (religious scholars) who study religion based on the Quran and the Sayings of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his Progeny (A.S.).(4)
Selection taken from Ayatullah Safi Golpayegani’s “Commentary on the Hadith of Expressing Beliefs”
1. The issue of confirming your faith is so important that it has been mentioned in several of the supplications given to us by the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.). For example the supplication of Ale Yasin located in Mafatih al-Jinan is a supplication by Imam Mahdi (May Allah Hasten his Reappearance).
2. He is of the grandchildren of Imam Hassan Mujtaba (A.S.) who is now buried in the city of Ray near Tehran.
3. These are the branches of religion