Nass Imamate and 12 Imams known from the beginning?
A question commonly asked is:
Can Imamate designated by Nass (divine will), be reconcilable with the ahadith stating that all 12 Imams were known from primordial existence (i.e, before mankind were created)?
The answer is yes!
- Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood was revealed before he was born
“And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O Children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Aḥmad." But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, "This is obvious magic."(Quran 61:6)
- When did Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood come into motion?
When Allah took a covenant from Prophet Muhammad, that is when his prophethood activated.
The covenant is a manifestation of Allah’s divine will
“And [mention, O Muḥammad], when We took from the prophets their covenant and from you [O Muhammad] and from Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus, the son of Mary; and We took from them a solemn covenant” (33:7)
- When did Prophet Muhammad receive the covenant?
“Abi Ja’far [al-Baqir] said:
God created Muhammad as a slave, so he disciplined him, until when he reached the age of forty, he revealed to him and delegated things to him, saying: “What the Messenger has given you, take it, and what he forbids you, abstain.”
بصائر الدرجات: ابن يزيد عن ابن أبي عمير عن إبراهيم بن عبد الحميد عن أبي أسامة عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: إن الله خلق محمداعبدا فأدبه حتى إذا بلغ أربعين سنة أوحى إليه وفوض إليه لأشياء فقال: " ما آتاكم الرسول فخذوه وما نهاكم عنه فانتهوا ".
- Shaykh al-Mufid’s thoughts
(Rasa’il fil Ghayba by Shaykh al-Mufid)
“So our Prophet, peace be upon him, was written and mentioned in the first books of God.
And He [Allah] obligated the past nations to know him [the Prophet], acknowledge him, and wait for him. Even though he [the Prophet] was a deposit in the loins of his forefathers and did not come into existence at that time.”
فكان نبينا عليه والله السلام مكتوبا مذكورا في كتب الله الأولى، وقد أوجب على الأمم الماضية معرفته والاقرار به وانتظاره، وهو عليه السلاموديعة في صلب آبائه لم يخرج إلى الوجود، ونحن اليوم عارفون بالقيامة والبعث والحساب وهو معدوم غير موجود، وقد عرفنا آدم ونوحاوإبراهيم وموسى وعيسى عليهم السلام ولم نشاهدهم ولا شاهدنا من أخبر عن مشاهدتهم، ونعرف جبرئيل وميكائيل وإسرافيل وملك، الموتعليهم السلام ولست نعرف لهم شخصا ولا نعرف لهم مكانا، فقد فرض الله علينا معرفتهم والاقرار بهم وإن كنا لا نجد إلى الوصول إليهمسبيلا، ونعلم أن فرض (المعرفة لشخص في نفسه من المصالح مما لا يتعلق لوجود مشاهدة)
The idea of Prophet Muhammad was present in previous books, and knowledging & acknowledging him was obligated by God - per our ahadith and the words of Shaykh al-Mufid.
However, his prophethood was only activated when prophet Muhammad was born and reached the age of 40. At that age, God delegated prophethood to him.
Yes, prophet Muhammad was prophet in rank since birth but there was a time where this prophethood would be activated.
Before it was activated through God’s covenant, prophet Muhammad was not aware of his rank and did not expect prophethood:
“And you were not expecting that the Book would be conveyed to you, but [it is] a mercy from your Lord.” (28:86)
When the covenant happened, the perks of prophethood (such as wahi, preaching, etc) became activated.
Similarly with the Imams, they would have known they would become Imams.
However, their Imamate did not ‘activated’ until their predecessor designates them in a will (reflective of Allah’s divine will).
At which point, the heir of the previous Imam would become a “silent Imam” (امام صامت):
I told Abi Abdilah [al-Sadiq]:
Is it possible for the Earth to not have an Imam?
He [the Imam] said: No.
So I asked: What about two Imams?
He [the Imam] said: No, except if the other one is samit (silent).
عدة من أصحابنا، عن أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى، بن أبي عمير، عن الحسين بن أبي العلاء قال: قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام: تكون الأرضليس فيها إمام؟
قال: لا، قلت: يكون إمامان؟ قال: لا إلا وأحدهما صامت.
When the samit Imam’s predecessor dies, the predecessor’s powers he was delegated as Imam pass onto his successor.
And the samit Imam becomes the “natiq Imam”, receiving wahi and other such powers and supernatural capabilities in the process.
Wa Allahu A’lam :)