Imamate in the Quran?

  • Why a hereditary Imamate?

When a king is approaching death, whom would he trust to be more likely to continue his legacy? His children who bear his name and lineage - or a companion with no biological relation?

The companion would want to create his own legacy and have his own independent ambitions, whereas the child of a king is the king’s posterity - thus, he would want to preserve the implementation of his father’s vision on society and continue his legacy.

As an example from our modern times, militaries of third world countries prefer being ruled by family dictatorships - because succeeding rulers are expected to continue their predecessors’ policies of rewarding the military, as the succession is father to son. This is what has made Thailand’s military intensely loyal to the Thai royal family.

Going back to the Quran, we can see that prophets believe their legacy and teachings can be properly taught only by their children.

  1. Prophet Zakariya tells Allah he is concerned about his relatives faith after him. Thus, he asks Allah to grant him a male son to succeed him.

Why is this?

Prophet Zakariya cannot trust his legacy of prophetic teaching being taught in the same way he did, except by having a son who will continue it.

Thus, Zakariya asks God to grant him an heir.

“And I am concerned about ˹the faith of˺ my relatives after me, since my wife is barren. So grant me, by Your grace, an heir” (19:5)

  1. People are more likely to follow what their fathers believed - even if it were wrong, than believe a stranger.

The following verses highlight this

And when it is said to them, "Follow what Allah has revealed," they say, "Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing." Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?” (2:170)

And when it is said to them, "Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger," they say, "Sufficient for us is that upon which we found our fathers." Even though their fathers knew nothing, nor were they guided?” (5:104)

This is why the Quran portrays Abraham as the “father of Muslims” - to create this spiritual connection & attachment:

He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham.” (22:78)

Accordingly, Prophet Muhammad & Imam Ali are also depicted as the fathers of this ummah:

I and Ali are the fathers of this ummah” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol 36, page 11)

أنا وعلي أبوا هذه الأمة

  • Did Al Muhammad succeed prophet Muhammad, in a hereditary Imamate?

Allah had given the Jews families of prophets to rule them (Al ‘Imran, Al Dawud, Banu Harun, and they all hail from Al [family of] Ibrahim). Allah granted these families spiritual powers - being given Scripture, wisdom, and bestowed a great kingdom (leadership over their followers).

So why did the Jews envy another people (i.e, another family) for Allah granting them spiritual powers?

The family, as per the context of the following verse - which is being said about Prophet Muhammad & thus would include his family, as it refers to ‘people’ being envied - and Al Ibrahim as a whole is mentioned on the parallel.

Or do they envy people for what Allah has given them of His bounty? But We had already given the family of Abraham the Scripture and wisdom and conferred upon them a great kingdom. (4:54)

Tafsir al-‘Ayyashi confirms this, quoting a narration of Imam al-Baqir saying:

(Tafsir al-‘Ayyashi, vol 1, page 246)

“‘Or do they envy people for what Allah has given them of His bounty?’.

Indeed, we (the Ahlulbayt) are the ones envied - as Allah gave us Imamate, to the exclusion of all of Allah’s creation.

But We had already given the family of Abraham the Scripture and wisdom and conferred upon them a great kingdom’

And we made them (Banu Israel) - messengers, prophets, and Imams. So how do they affirm that in Al Ibrahim and deny it in Al Muhammad?

أم يحسدون الناس على ما آتيهم الله من فضله " فنحن المحسودون على ما أتانا الله من الإمامة دون خلق الله جميعا " فقد آتينا آلإبراهيم الكتاب والحكمة وآتيناهم ملكا عظيما " يقولفجعلنا منهم الرسل والأنبياء والأئمة فكيف يقرون بذلك في آل إبراهيم و تنكرونه في آلمحمد صلى الله عليه وآله 

  • What is the nature of inherited Imamate of Al Muhammad?

  • According to Sunni sources like the renowned Tafsir al-Qurtubi, companion of prophet Muhammad - Ibn Abbas recited verse 22:52 in the following qira’a

And we did not send any messenger or prophet or muhadath..” 

The Imams also recited the verse in the same qiraa.

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 176)

Zurara asks Imam al-Baqir:

“The Imam - what is his status? He said: He hears the voice and does not see nor inspect the angel. 

Then he recited this verse:

“And We did not send before you a Messenger, nor a Prophet, nor a Muhadath

الامام ما منزلته؟ قاليسمع الصوت ولا يرى ولا يعاين الملك، ثم تلا هذه الآية:

وما أرسلنا من قبلك من رسول ولا نبي ولا محدث

For more information on what a qiraa is, look at my article here (

  • What is a muhadath, per the verse? (Sunni perspective)

A muhadath refers to people sent / appointed by God, like prophets & messengers are sent by God - they are not commoners,

But they are neither prophet nor messenger - but people who were divinely inspired and receiving Ilm al-Ghayb. 

They are infallible, have ilm al-ghayb, and offer esoteric wisdom.

Maslama, the Sunni classical mufassir, says - as recorded in Tafsir al-Qurtubi

We found that the muhadatheen had the ismah (infallibility) of prophethood  per the qira’a of Ibn Abbas - because they spoke of matters that have a high level of ghayb that are dangerous. 

And they spoke of batin (esoteric) wisdom so they were correct in what they spoke and they were infallible in what they spoke. 

Like Umar ibn al-Khattab in the sariya incident [having knowledge Persian army in Iran while he was in Medina], and what he spoke of from high proofs”

قال مسلمة : فوجدنا المحدثين معتصمين بالنبوة - على قراءة ابن عباس - لأنهم تكلموا بأمور عالية من أنباء الغيبخطرات ، ونطقوا بالحكمة الباطنة فأصابوا فيما تكلموا وعصموا فيما نطقوا ؛ كعمر بن الخطاب في قصة سارية ، وماتكلم به من البراهين العالية .

The following Bukhari hadiths affirms this claim about Umar being a muhadath:

The muhadath’s power is not mere guessing that as the interpretation offered by in parenthesis attempts to suggest. 

But rather non-prophets who received divine inspiration, as shown in Bukhari hadith below which claims Umar fulfills that criteria:

  • What is a muhadath, per the verse? (Shi’i perspective)

The Shi’i conception is the same as Sunnis. Infallibility, divine inspiration, and ‘ilm al-ghayb.

Instead of believing that Umar fulfills the criteria, Shi’a believe the Twelve Imams are muhadatheen.

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 270)

Abu Ja’far sent a letter to Zurara, telling him to inform al-Hakam ibn ‘Utayba that the awsiya’ (heir) of Muhammad are muhadathun

محمد بن يحيى، عن أحمد بن محمد، عن الحجال، عن القاسم بن محمد، عن عبيد بن زرارة قالأرسل أبو جعفر (عليه السلامإلى زرارة أنيعلم الحكم بن عتيبة أن أوصياء محمد عليه وعليهم السلام محدثون.

(‘Ilal al-Shara’ie, vol 1, page 1&3)

Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was asked after he recited ‘And We did not send before you a Messenger, nor a Prophet, nor a Muhadath’;

‘Do angels speak to figures other than prophets?’

He answers:

Mary was not a prophet and she was a muhadatha and the mother of Musa ibn ‘Imran was a muhadatha and she was not a prophet, and Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had seen the angels which gave her the glad tidings of Isaac, and who after Ishaq - Ya’qub and she was not a prophet.

And Fatimah, the daughter of the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, was a muhaatha (female muhadath) and was not a prophet.”

قالمحمد بن أبي بكر لما قرأ وما أرسلنا من قبلك من رسول ولا نبي ولا محدث، وهل يحدث الملائكة إلا الأنبياء قال مريم لم تكن نبية وكانتمحدثة، وأم موسى بن عمران كانت محدثة ولم تكن نبية، وسارة امرأة إبراهيم قد عاينت الملائكة فبشروها بإسحاق، ومن وراء إسحاق يعقوبولم تكن نبية، وفاطمة بنت رسول صلى الله عليه وآله كانت محدثة ولم تكن نبية.

More to be discussed on the topic of Imamate in the Quran

Wa Allahu A’lam