God has created mankind for a purpose (51:56). He has given man reason and free-will to find his way towards his perfection and happiness. He has also supplemented the human reason with divine revelation. Through His wisdom and justice, He has not left any people or corner of the world without guidance; He has sent prophets to all nations to instruct and guide them (10:47 and 16:36).
The first prophet was Adam and the last was Muhammad, the Seal of prophets (33:40). The Qur’an mentions twenty-five of the prophets and states that there were many more (40:78). Through the indications of hadiths, Muslims believe that there have been 124,000 prophets. Amongst those mentioned in the Qur’an are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Jonah, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad. Among them, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad had universal missions and brought new codes of law. They are called, “Ulū al-‘Azm” meaning those of great determination.
Other than itself, the Qur’an speaks of four Heavenly books: the Book of Abraham (87:19); the Psalms of David (4:163 and 17:55); the Torah of Moses (2:87, 3:3 & 4, 6:91 & 154) and the Gospel of Jesus (5:46).
A Muslim must believe in all the Holy Books (2:4 & 285) and in all the prophets (4:152). As we will see later, the Shi‘a also believe that all the prophets were necessarily infallible and sinless prior to and during their mission.
The Shi‘a, like other Muslims, have a great love for the Prophet Muhammad. They see in the Prophet Muhammad the perfect model of entire reliance on God, profound knowledge of God, ultimate devotion to God, sincere obedience to the divine Will, the noblest of character, and compassion and mercy for all mankind. It was not accidental that he was chosen by God to deliver His final and most perfect message for humanity. To be able to receive divine revelation and be addressed by God requires one to possess a very high calibre. Naturally to be able to receive the most perfect revelation requires the highest calibre.
The personal character and behaviour of the Prophet contributed greatly to the progress of Islam. He was known to be an honest, trustworthy and pious person from childhood. During his prophethood, he always lived by his principles and values. In the times of ease as well as difficulty, security as well as fear, peace as well as war, victory as well as defeat, he always manifested humility, justice and confidence. He was so humble that he never admired himself, he never felt superior to others and he never lived a life of luxury. Both when he was alone and powerless as well as when he ruled the Arab peninsula and Muslims were whole-heartedly following him, he behaved the same. He lived very simply and was always with the people, especially the poor. He had no palace nor guard. When he was sitting with his companions no one could distinguish him from others by considering his seat or clothes. It was only his words and spirituality that distinguished him from others.
He was so just that he never ignored rights of anyone, even his enemies. He exemplified in his life the Qur’anic command, “O you who believe! Be upright for God, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety” (5:8).
Before battles, he always gave instructions to his soldiers not to harm women, children, the elderly, and those who surrendered, not to destroy farms and gardens, not to chase those who had escaped from the war front, and to be kind to their captives.
Just before his demise, the Prophet announced in the Mosque: “Whoever among you feels that I have done injustice to him, come forward and do justice. Surely, enacting justice in this world is better in my view than being taken account of in the Hereafter in front of the angels and the Prophets.”
Those present in the Mosque wept, for they were reminded of all the sacrifices that the Prophet had made for them and the troubles that he had undergone in order to guide them. They knew that he never gave any priority to his own needs and never preferred his comfort and convenience to others. They therefore responded with statements of deep gratitude and profound respect. But one among them, Sawadah b. Qays, stood up and said: “May my father and mother be your ransom! O Messenger of God! On your return from Ta’if, I came to welcome you while you were riding your camel. You raised your stick to direct your camel, but the stick struck my stomach. I do not know whether this strike was intentional or unintentional.” The Prophet replied: “I seek refuge from God from having done so intentionally.”
The Prophet then asked Bilal to go to the house of Fatimah and bring the same stick. After the stick was brought, the Prophet told Sawadah to retaliate by hitting him back. Sawadah said that the stick had struck the skin of his stomach. The Prophet therefore lifted his shirt so that Sawadah could in return strike his skin. At that moment, Sawadah asked: “O Messenger of God! Do you allow me to touch my mouth to your stomach?” The Prophet gave him permission. Sawadah then kissed the stomach of the Prophet and prayed that because of this act of his, Go would protect him from fire on the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet said: “O Sawadah! Will you pardon me or do you still wish to retaliate?” He replied: “I pardon you.” The Prophet then prayed: “O God! Pardon Sawadah b. Qays as he pardoned Your Prophet, Muhammad!”1
Imāmah: As mentioned earlier, the Shi‘a believe in the institution of Imāmah as a continuation of prophethood. In Arabic the term “Imām” literally means “leader”. An Imam, in general terminology, may be good or bad, and the extent of his leadership may be very broad, such as leading a whole nation, or limited such as leading congregations in a mosque. However, in the Shi‘i faith the Imam in its narrower sense is the person who is in charge of all political and religious affairs of the Islamic nation. More exactly, the Imam is the person who is appointed by God and introduced by the Prophet and then by each preceding Imam by explicit designation (nass) to lead the Muslim community, interpret and protect the religion and the law (shari‘ah), and guide the community in all affairs. The Imam is the Representative of God on earth (khalifat-Allāh) and the successor of the Prophet. He must be sinless and possess divine knowledge of both the exoteric and the esoteric meaning of the Qur’an.
The Sunni View: Sunni Muslims use the term Imam as an equivalent to the term “Caliph” (khalifah). In Arabic the term “khalifah” means successor. The term has been used as a title for whoever took the power and ruled the Islamic state after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad. A Caliph may be elected, or nominated by his predecessor, or selected by a committee, or may even acquire power through military force. A Caliph need not be sinless. Neither does he need to be superior to others in qualities, such as faith or knowledge.
The Twelver Shi‘a who constitute the vast majority of Shi‘a Muslims believe that the Prophet was succeeded by twelve Imams.2 These are:
1. Imam Ali b. Abu Talib3
2. Imam hasan b. Ali
3. Imam Husayn b. Ali
4. Imam Ali b. Husayn
5. Imam Muhammad b. Ali
6. Imam Ja‘far b. Muhammad
7. Imam Musa b. Ja‘far
8. Imam Ali b. Musa
9. Imam Muhammad b. Ali
10. Imam Ali b. Muhammad
11. Imam Hasan b. Ali
12. Imam al-Mahdi
Prophet said: “There will be twelve leaders (amír) after me.” Then the narrator says that the Prophet said something that he could not hear. He asked his father, who too was present at the time, to tell him what the Prophet had said. His father said that the Prophet had said: “All these twelve leaders will be from the tribe of Quraysh.” (Sahih of Bukhari, Kitab al-Ahkam, Chapter 51 on al-Istikhlaf) Muslim also reports this tradition, saying that the narrator of this tradition went with his father to the place where the Prophet was, and the Prophet said: “This religion will not end until there will have been twelve successors (khalifah)”. Then the narrator says: “The Prophet said something I did not understand and I asked my father. He said, the Prophet said: ‘They are all from Quraysh’.”(Sahih of Muslim, Kitab al-Imarah, Chapter: the people follow Quraysh and that caliphate is in Quraysh)
5 As we saw earlier, Imam Ali was the Prophet`s cousin and son-in-law (the husband of the Lady Fatimah). He was the first man who embraced Islam.
The belief in a saviour is shared by most (if not all) religions. In Islam, the idea of a saviour is very deliberately presented in the doctrine of al-Mahdi (the Guided) who will rise up with divine blessing and fill the earth with justice after it has been filled with injustice and oppression. The idea of a saviour or a good end for the world is indicated in many Qur’anic verses and Islamic hadiths. For example, we read in the Qur’an:
We have written in the Psalms following the Reminder: “My honourable servants shall inherit the earth” (21:105).
Yet we wanted to endow those who were considered inferior on earth, and make them into leaders and make them [Our] heirs (28:5).
The following are only some examples of hadiths on the same idea of the saviour narrated in both Sunni and Shi‘a sources:
- The Prophet said:
Even if the entire duration of the world’s existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left (before the day of judgment), God will expand that day to such a length of time, as to accommodate the kingdom of a person from my household who will be called by my name.4
2. The Prophet also said:
Al-Mahdi is one of us, the members of the household (Ahlul-Bayt). God will prepare for him (his affairs) in one night.5
3. Furthermore, the Prophet said:
Al-Mahdi will be of my family, of the descendants of Fatimah.6
4. It is also narrated from Jabir b. Abdillah al-Ansari that he heard the Messenger of God saying:
A group of my nation will fight for the truth until the Day of Judgment. When Jesus son of Mary will descend, and their leader will ask him to lead the prayer, Jesus will decline, saying: “No, verily among you God has made leaders for others in order to honour this nation”.7
Thus, al-Mahdi will have a universal mission. His name will be the same as the name of the Prophet Muhammad and he will be from the progeny of the Lady Fatimah. The Shi‘a believe that he is the son of Imam Hasan al-‘Askari. He was born in 255 (A.H). His occultation began in the year 260
(A.H). He is still alive, but protected by God in the state of occultation till preparations are made for his reappearance. The same is believed by some Sunni scholars, while some other Sunni scholars believe that he has not yet been born. Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin in his A‘yān al-Shi‘ah has named thirteen examples of those Sunni scholars who have asserted that al-Mahdi is the son of Imam Hasan and already born, such as Muhammad b. Yousuf al-Kanjī al-Shafi‘ī in his Al-Bayān fī Akhbār Sāhib al-Zamān and Kifāyat al-Tālib fī Manāqib Ali b. Abī Tālib; Nūr al-Dīn Ali b. Muhammad al-Mālikī in his Al-Fusūl al-Muhimmah fī Ma‘rifat al-A’immah and Ibn al-Jawzī in his well-known Tadhkirat al-Khawāss.
1 Mustadrak Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah, vol. 18, pp. 287 & 288.
2 There is a series of hadiths, in which the prophet mentioned that there would be twelve leaders after him. For example, Bukhari reports that the Prophet said: “There will be twelve leaders (amír) after me.” Then the narrator says that the Prophet said something that he could not hear. He asked his father, who too was present at the time, to tell him what the Prophet had said. His father said that the Prophet had said: “All these twelve leaders will be from the tribe of Quraysh.” (Sahih of Bukhari, Kitab al-Ahkam, Chapter 51 on al-Istikhlaf) Muslim also reports this tradition, saying that the narrator of this tradition went with his father to the place where the Prophet was, and the Prophet said: “This religion will not end until there will have been twelve successors (khalifah)”. Then the narrator says: “The Prophet said something I did not understand and I asked my father. He said, the Prophet said: ‘They are all from Quraysh’.” (Sahih of Muslim, Kitab al-Imarah, Chapter: the people follow Quraysh and that caliphate is in Quraysh)
3 As we saw earlier, Imam Ali was the Prophet`s cousin and son-in-law (the husband of the Lady Fatimah). He was the first man who embraced Islam.
4 Sunan of al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Fitan, Sakhr serial no. 2156 & 2157 and Sunan of Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Mahdi, Sakhr serial no. 3733 & 3734. According to Abu Dawud, the hadith ends with, “He will fill out the earth with justice as it will have been full of injustice and oppression.” See also Musnad of Ahmad, Musnad al-‘Asharah al-Mubashsharin bi al-Jannah, Sakhr serial no. 734 and Sunan of Ibn Majah, Kitab al- Jihād, serial no. 2769.
5 Sunan of Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan, Sakhr serial no. 4075 and Musnad of Ahmad, Musnad al-‘Asharah al-Mubashsharin bi al-Jannah, Sakhr serial no. 610.
6 Sunan of Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Mahdi, Sakhr serial no. 3735. See also Sunan of Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Fitan, Sakhr serial no. 4076.
7 Sahih of Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Sakhr serial no. 225 and Musnad of Ahmad, Baqi Musnad al-Mukthirin, Sakhr serial no. 14193 & 14595.
Discovering Shi’i Islam Mohammad Ali Shomali 9th Edition