25. Shi'ah tenets concerning the question of the imamate.



It should be known that, linguistically, Shi'ah means "companions and followers." In the customary usage of old and modern jurists and speculative theologians, the word is used for the followers and descendants of 'All. The tenet on which they all agree is that the imamate is not a general (public) interest to be delegated to the Muslim nation for consideration and appointment of a person to fill it. (To the Shi'ah,) it is a pillar and fundamental article of Islam. No prophet 247 is permitted to neglect it or to delegate (the appointment of an imam) to the Muslim nation. It is incumbent upon him to appoint an imam for the (Muslims). The imam cannot commit 248 sins either great or small. 'Ali is the one whom Muhammad appointed. The (Shi'ah) transmit texts (of traditions) in support of (this belief), which they interpret so as to suit their tenets. The authorities on the Sunnah and the transmitters of the religious law do not know these texts. Most of them are supposititious, or some of their transmitters are suspect, or their (true) interpretation is very different from the wicked interpretation that (the Shi'ah) give to them.

According to (the Shi'ah), these texts fall into the two categories of express and implied statements.249 An express statement, for instance, is the following statement (by Muhammad): "Ali is master of those whose master I am." 250 As they say, such a position of master (mentioned in the tradition) applies only to 'Ali. 'Umar thus said to him: "You have become the master of all believers, men and women."

Another tradition of this sort is the following statement of (Muhammad): "Your best judge is 'Ali." Imamate means exclusively the activity of judging in accordance with the divine laws. (The activity of) judging and being a judge is (what is) meant by "the people in authority" whom God requires us to obey in the verse of the Qur'an: "Obey God, and obey the Messenger and the people in authority among you." 251 Therefore, 'All and no other was arbitrator in the question of the imamate on the day of the Saqifah.252

Another statement of this sort is the following statement by (Muhammad): "He who renders the oath of allegiance to me upon his life is my legatee and the man who will be in charge of this authority here after me."Only 'Ali rendered the oath of allegiance to him (in this manner).

An implied (argument), according to the Shi'ah, is the fact that the Prophet sent 'All to recite the surat al-Bara'ah 253 at the festival (in Mecca) when it had (just) been revealed. He first sent Abu Bakr with it. Then it was revealed to Muhammad that "a man from you,"-or: ". . . from your people"-"should transmit it." Therefore, he sent 'Ali to transmit it. As they say, this proves that 'Ali was preferred (by Muhammad). Furthermore, it is not known that Muham­mad ever preferred anyone to 'All, while he preferred Usamah b. Zayd 254 and 'Amr b. al-' As 255 to both Abu Bakr and 'Umar during two different raids. According to (the Shi'ah), all these things prove that 'Ali and no one else was appointed (by Muhammad) to the caliphate. However, some of the statements quoted are little known, and others require an interpretation very different from that which (the Shi'ah) give.

Some (Shi'ah) hold the opinion that these texts prove both the personal appointment of 'All and the fact that the imamate is transmitted from him to his successors. They are the Imamiyah. They renounce the two shaykhs (Abu Bakr and 'Umar), because they did not give precedence to 'Ali and did not render the oath of allegiance to him, as required by the texts quoted. The Imamiyah do not take the imamates (of Abu Bakr and 'Umar) seriously. But we do not want to bother with transmitting the slanderous things said about (Abfi Bakr and 'Umar) by (Imamiyah) extremists. They are objectionable in our opinion and (should be) in theirs.

Other (Shi'ah) say that these proofs require the appoint­ment of 'All not in person but as far as (his) qualities are concerned. They say that people commit an error when they do not give the qualities their proper place. They are the Zaydiyah. They do not renounce the two shaykhs (Abu Bakr and 'Umar). They do take their imamates seriously, but they say that 'All was superior to them. They permit an inferior person to be the imam, even though a superior person may be alive (at the same time).256

The Shi'ah 257 differ in opinion concerning the succession to the caliphate after 'Ali. Some have it passed on among the descendants of Fatimah in succession, through testamentary determination (nass). We shall mention that later on. They (who believe this) are called the Imamiyah, with reference to their statement that knowledge of the imam and the fact of his being appointed are an article of the faith. That is their fundamental tenet.

Others consider the descendants of Fatimah the (proper) successors to the imamate, but through selection (of an imam) from among the Shi'ah. The conditions governing (selection of) that imam are that he have knowledge, be ascetic, generous, and brave, and that he go out to make propaganda for his imamate. They (who believe this) are the Zaydiyah, so named after the founder of the sect, Zayd b. 'Ali b. al-Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad. He had a dispute with his brother Muhammad al-Bagir concerning the condition that the imam has to come out openly. Al-Bagir charged him with implying that, in the way Zayd looked at it, their father Zayn-al-'abidin would not be an imam, be­cause he had not come out openly and had made no preparations to do so. He also accused him of holding Mu'tazilah tenets which he had learned from Wasil b. 'Ata. When the Imimiyah discussed the question of the imamates of the two shaykhs (Abu Bakr and 'Umar) with Zayd, and noticed that he admitted their imamates and did not renounce them, they disavowed him and did not make him one of the imams. On account of that fact, they are called "Disavowers" (Rafidah).

Some (Shi'ah) consider as successors to the imamate, after 'All-or after his two sons, Muhammad's grandsons (al-Hasan and al-Husayn), though they disagree in this respect-(al-Hasan's and al-Husayn's) brother, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyah, and then the latter's children. They are the Kaysiniyah, so named after Kaysin, a client of ('Ali's).258

There are many differences among these sects which we have omitted here for the sake of brevity.

There are also (Shi'ah) sects that are called "Extremists" (ghulah). They transgress the bounds of reason and the faith of Islam when they speak of the divinity of the imams. They either assume that the imam is a human being with divine qualities, or they assume that he is God in human incarnation. This is a dogma of incarnation that agrees with the Christian tenets concerning Jesus. 'Ali himself had these (Shl'ah) who said such things about him burned to death. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyah was very angry with al­Mukhtir b. Abi 'Ubayd when he learned that al-Mukhtar had suggested something along these lines concerning him. He cursed and renounced al-Mukhtir openly. Ja'far as-Sidiq did the same thing with people about whom he had learned something of the sort.

Some (Shi'ah) extremists say that the perfection the imam possesses is possessed by nobody else. When he dies, his spirit passes over to another imam, so that this perfection may be in him. This is the doctrine of metempsychosis.

Some extremists stop (w-q-f) with one of the imams and do not go on. (They stop with the imam) whom they con­sider (to have been) appointed as the (last one). They (who believe this) are the Wiqifiyah. Some of them say that the (last imam) is alive and did not die, but is removed from the eyes of the people. As a proof for that (theory), they adduce the problem of al-Khidr.259

Something of that sort has been stated with regard to 'Ali himself. He is said to be in the clouds. The thunder is his voice, and lightning his whip.260 Something similar has also been stated with regard to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyah. He is said to be in the Mountain of Radwi in the Hijiz. The poet of (the sect holding that belief), Kuthayyir,261 says:


Indeed, the Qurashite imams,

The champions of the Truth, are four, all alike: 'Ali and his three sons,

They are the grandsons of Muhammad. To them, no

obscurity is attached.

One grandson is the grandson of faith and piety. Another was "removed" through Kerbela.

And there is a grandson who will not taste death, until He shall lead an army preceded by the flag.

He is "removed," and has not been seen among them for a time,

In Radwi, having with him honey and water.


The extremist Imimiyah, in particular the Twelvers, hold a similar opinion. They think that the twelfth of their imams, Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-'Askari, to whom they give the epithet of al-Mahdi, entered the cellar of their house in al-Hillah and was "removed" when he was imprisoned (there) with his mother. He has remained there "removed." 262 He will come forth at the end of time and will fill the earth with justice. The Twelver Shi'ah refer in this connection to the tradition found in the collection of at­Tirmidhi regarding the Mahdi.263 The Twelver Shi'ah are still expecting him to this day. Therefore, they call him "the Expected One." Each night after the evening prayer, they bring a mount and stand at the entrance to the cellar where (the Mahdi is "removed"). They call his name and ask him to come forth openly. They do so until all the stars are out.264 Then, they disperse and postpone the matter to the following night. They have continued that custom to this time.

Some of the Wigifiyah say that the imam who died will return to actual life in this world. They adduce as a proof (for the possibility of this assumption) the story of the Seven Sleepers, the one about the person who passed by a village, and the one about the murdered Israelite who was beaten with the bones of the cow that (his people) had been ordered to slaughter, all of them stories included in the Qur'in.265 They further adduce similar wonders that occurred in the manner of (prophetical) miracles. However, it is not right to use those things as proof for anything except where they properly apply.

The (extremist Shi'ah) poet, as-Sayyid al-Himyari'266 has the following verses on this subject:


When a man's head has become gray

And the barbers urge him to dye his hair, His cheerfulness is gone and no longer there.

Arise, O companion, and let us weep for (our lost) youth.

What is gone of it will not return

To anyone until the Day of the Return,

Until the day on which people will return

To their life in this world before the Reckoning.

I believe that this is a true belief.

I do not doubt the Resurrection.

In fact, God has spoken about people

Who lived after they had decomposed and become dust.


The religious authorities (imams) of the Shi'ah have themselves made it superfluous for us to bother with the arguments of the extremists, for they do not refer to them and thus invalidate the use (the extremists) make of their (arguments).

The Kaysiniyah consider (Muhammad's) son Abu Hisham successor to the imamate after Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyah. They are therefore called the Hishimiyah. Then, they split. Some of them transferred the imamate after Abu Hisham to his brother 'Ali and then to 'Ali's son al-Hasan. Others thought that when Abu Hisham died in the land of ash-Sharih 267 upon his return from Syria, he appointed as his heir Muhammad b. 'Ali b. 'Abdallih b. 'Abbis, who, in turn, appointed as his heir his son Ibrihim who is known as the Imam. Ibrihim appointed as his heir his brother 'Abdallah b. al-Harithiyah who got the surname of as-Saffah, who, in turn, appointed as his heir his brother Abu Ja'far'Abdallah, who got the surname of al-Mansur. (The imamate) was then passed on to his children in succession through testamentary determination (nass) and appointment ('ahd), right down to the last of them. Such is the tenet of .the Hashimiyah who support the 'Abbasid dynasty. Among them were Abu Muslim, Sulayman b. Kathir, Abu Salimah al-Khallal, and other members of the (early) 'Abbasid Shi'ah268 Their right to the power is often supported by the argument that their right goes back to al-'Abbas. He was alive at the time of Muhammad's death, and he had the best title to become Muhammad's heir because of the group feeling attaching to paternal uncles (al-'Abbas being the paternal uncle of Muhammad).

The Zaydiyah consider the succession to the imamate in the light of their view concerning (the institution). (The imam) is chosen by competent 268a Muslims and not appointed by testamentary determination (nass). They acknowledge as imams, 'Ali, his son al-Hasan, (al-Hasan's) brother al­Husayn, (al-Husayn's) son 'Ali Zayn-al-'abidin, and ('Ali's) son, the head of the Zaydiyah, Zayd b. 'All. Zayd came forth in al-Kufah and made propaganda for the imamate. He was killed and his body exhibited in al-Kunasah.269 The Zaydiyah acknowledge the imamate of (Zayd's) son Yahya, as his (father's) successor. Yahya went to al-Khurasan and was killed in al-Juzajan 270 after he had appointed Muhammad b. 'Abdallah b. Hasan b. al-Hasan, (Muhammad's) grandson, as his heir. Muhammad is called "the Pure Soul" (an-Nafs as-zakiyah). He came forth in the Hijaz and took the surname of al-Mahdi. Al-Mansur's armies went against him. He was routed and killed. His brother Ibrahim was appointed his successor. He appeared in al-Basrah. With him was 'Isa b. Zayd b. 'All. Al-Mansur himself, or his generals, went against him with the army. Both Ibrahim and Isa were routed and killed 271 Ja'far as-Sadiq had told them all that (in advance). (His prediction) was considered one of Ja'far's acts of divine grace. 272

Other (Zaydis) assumed that the imam after Muhammad b. 'Abdallah, the Pure Soul, was Muhammad b. al-Qasim b. 'All b. 'Umar,273 'Umar being the brother of Zayd b. 'Ali. Muhammad b. al-Qasim came forth in at-Taliqin. He was captured and brought to al-Mu'tasim, who imprisoned him. He died in prison.

Other Zaydis say that the imam after Yahya b. Zayd was his brother 'Isa, who had participated with Ibrahim b. 'Abdallah in his fight against al-Mansur. They consider his descendants the successors to the imamate. The impostor who appeared among the Negroes (Zanj during their revolt) considered him his ancestor. We shall mention that in connection with the history of the Zanj.274

Other Zaydis say that the imam after Muhammad b. 'Abdallah was his brother Idris who fled to the Maghrib and died there. His son Idris b. Idris seized power and laid out the city of Fez. His descendants succeeded him as rulers in the Maghrib, until they were destroyed, as we shall mention in connection with Idrisid history.275 Thereafter, the Zaydi  power became disorganized and remained so.

The missionary who ruled Tabaristan, al-Hasan b. Zayd b. Muhammad b. Isma'il b. al-Hasan b. Zayd b. al­Hasan, Muhammad's grandson, as well as his brother, Muhammad b. Zayd, also were Zaydis. Zaydi propaganda was then continued among the Daylam by the (Husaynid) an­Nasir al-Utrush. The Daylam accepted Islam from him. He was al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. 'Umar, the brother of Zayd b. 'Ali. His descendants founded a dynasty in Tabaristan. They made it possible for the Daylam to obtain royal authority and control over the caliphs in Baghdad. We shall mention this in connection with the history of the Daylam.276

The Imamiyah considered (the following) as successors to the imamate after 'All al-Wasi (the "Legatee") by appointment as heirs. 'Ali's son al-Hasan, (al-Hasan's) brother al-Husayn, (al-Husayn's) son 'Ali Zayn-al-'abidin, ('Ali's) son Muhammad al-Baqir, and (Muhammad's) son Jafar as­Sadiq. From there on, they split into two sects. One of them considers (Ja'far's) son Ismail as Ja'far's successor to the imamate. They recognize Ismail as their imam. They are called the Isma'iliyah. The other considers (Ja'far's) son, Musa al-Kazim, as Ja'far's successor to the imamate. They are the Twelvers, because they stop with the twelfth imam. They say that he remains "removed" until the end of time, as has been mentioned before.277

The Isma'ilis say that the imam Ismail became imam because his father Ja'far appointed him (through nasr) to be his successor. (Isma'il) died before his father, but according to (the Isma'ilis) the fact that he was determined by his father as his successor means that the imamate should continue among his successors. This is analogous to the story of Moses and Aaron.278 As they say, Isma'il's successor as imam was his son Muhammad, the Concealed One (al­Maktum).279 He is the first of the hidden imams. According to the Isma'ilis, an imam who has no power goes into hiding. His missionaries remain in the open, in order to establish proof (of the hidden imam's existence) among mankind.

When the imam has actual power, he comes out into the open and makes his propaganda openly. As they say, after Muhammad, the Concealed One, the hidden imams were: his son Jafar al-Musaddiq, Ja'far's son Muhammad al-Habib, the last of the hidden imams, and Muhammad's son 'Ubay­dallah al-Mahdi. For him, open propaganda was made among the Kutamah by Abu 'Abdallah ash-Shi'i. People followed his call, and he brought al-Mahdi out of his confinement in Sijilmasah. Al-Mahdi became the ruler of al-Qayrawan and the Maghrib. His descendants and successors ruled over Egypt, as is well known from their history.

The Isma'ilis are called "Isma'ilis" with reference to their recognition of the imamate of Isma'il. They are also called "Batinis" with reference to their speaking about the batin, that is, the hidden, imam. They further are called "heretics," because of the heretical character of their beliefs. They have an old and a new persuasion. Neo-Isma'ili propaganda was made at the end of the fifth [eleventh] century by al-Hasan b. Muhammad as-Sabbah. He ruled over certain fortresses in Syria and the 'Iraq.280 His propaganda persisted there until the Turkish rulers in Egypt and the Tatar rulers in the 'Iraq destroyed it in their respective territories. The persuasion for which as-Sabbah made propaganda is mentioned in ash-Shahrastani's Kitab al-milal wa-n-nihal.281

Among recent Shi'ah, the name of Imamiyah is often restricted to the Twelvers. They acknowledge the imamate of Musa al-Kazim b. Ja'far because his elder brother, the imam Ismail, had died while their father Ja'far was still alive. Jafar then appointed Musa (through nasr) as imam. The imams after Musa were 'Ali ar-Rida, who was appointed by al-Ma'mun as his successor (to the caliphate),282 but died before al-Ma'mun, so that nothing came of it. The imams after 'Ali, then, were ('Ali's) son Muhammad at-Taqi,(Muhammad's) son 'Ali al-Hadi, ('Ali's) son al-Hasan al­'Askari, and (al-Hasan's) son Muhammad, the Expected Mahdi, whom we have mentioned before.283

There are many divergences within each of these Shi'ah persuasions. However, the sects mentioned are the most prominent ones. For an exhaustive study of Shi'ah sects, one should consult the books on religions and sects (al-milal wa-n-nihal) by Ibn Hazm,284 ash-Shahrastani, and others. They contain additional information.

"God leads astray whomever He wants to lead astray, and He guides whomever He wants to guide." 285