Our Imams and Batini Ahkam


1 ) Batinism and the Imams

Every Quranic verse has two interpretations:

  • The Dhahir - the apparent
  • The batin - the esoteric

The Dhahir of a verse is its apparent interpretation, an interpretation one is able to interpret individually. 

The batin of a verse is an interpretation of the verse revealed by God to the Imam and may have nothing to do with the dhahir at all in terms of context, meaning, and applicability. 

The batin interpretation of the verse is a special meaning attached to the verse, consisting of revelation to the Imams which to an observer will not have basis in Sharia. Thus, the batin interpretation was in continuous update to our Imams - ‘It travels with precision, like the Sun and Moon’, as Imam al-Baqir said. And can apply to contexts even outside the immediate dhahir meanings of the verse.

Since there is no Sharia after Prophet Muhammad, our Imams cannot introduce new religious laws without asserting their basis in the Quran. As “whatever hadith does not conform to the Quran, it is a useless statement” (al-Kafi, vol 1, page 69).

Thus, they offer an interpretation to a verse which they state is its hidden meaning and true purpose. This is the batin meaning. 

Ahkam (religious commandments) and meanings with seemingly no basis when the Quran is read from a dhahir perspective, suddenly have a basis in the Quran - as “batin interpretations” of the Quran. 

(Tafsir al-‘Ayyashi, vol 1, page 11)

Al-Fudhayl ibn Yasar said: 

I asked Abi Jafar [al-Baqir] about this narration: 

‘There is no verse in the Quran, except that it has a dhahr and batn. And there is no harf, except that it has a limit. And to every limit there is a beginning.’ 

What does he mean by ‘dhahr and batn’? 

He [al-Baqir] said: Its dhahr [is so and so], and its batn is its ta’wil - it includes what had passed, and what has not yet happened. It travels with precision, like the Sun and Moon..’

عن الفضيل بن يسار قالسئلت أبا جعفر عليه السلام عن هذه الرواية " ما في القرآن آية الا ولها ظهر وبطن، وما فيه حرف الا وله حد ولكلحد مطلع " (5) ما يعنى بقوله لها ظهر وبطن؟ قالظهره وبطنه تأويله، منه ما مضى ومنه ما لم يكن بعد، يجرى كما يجرى الشمس والقمر،كلما جاء منه شئ وقع قال الله تعالى " وما يعلم تأويله الا الله والراسخون في العلم

2 ) Batini ahkam and meanings

As batin interpretations of our Imams assert basis in the Quran, their application becomes mandatory to our Imams’ followers. 

Our Imams have made full use of batin interpretations to (1) cement the exclusionary nature of Shi’ism, (2) offer an elitist position to the most loyal of their followers, and (3) cultivate a loyal dedication to their (the Imams’) persons, entailing unquestioned and absolute power. 

Below are some examples of batini ahkam & meanings whose purpose is to achieve the three above goals.

A) Exclusionary and elitist


To maintain the Shi’a in an elitist position, non-Shi’a were dehumanized spiritually.

Thus, Imam al-Sadiq for example permitted his followers to look at the ‘awrah (genitals) of non-Muslims (i.e, non-Shi’a). 

The Imam equated the ‘awrah of a non-Muslim to the ‘awrah of a donkey. It is permissible to look at the ‘awrah of a donkey - because no normal human will be aroused by it. 

The Imam equated a non-Muslim’s ‘awrah to a donkey, because non-Muslims from a batin interpretation are animals. Thus, it is not expected to be aroused by them (from a batin perspective).

Obviously - it is not expected to not be aroused by a human being simply because of his religion. Thus, the hukm provided by our Imams *must be symbolic* to signify the spiritual non-existence of non-Muslims.

- Hadith:

(Al-Kafi, vol 6, page 501)

“Abi Abdillah al-Sadiq said:

Looking at the ‘awrah of whomever is not Muslim is like looking at the ‘awrah of a donkey’”

27 - علي بن إبراهيم، عن أبيه، عن ابن أبي عمير، عن غير واحد، عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قالالنظر إلى عورة من ليس بمسلم مثلنظرك إلى عورة الحمار

The muhaqiq (editor) of al-Kafi vol 6 says:

It is apparent from the author (al-Kulayni) and Ibn Babawayh (al-Saduq) - may Allah have mercy upon them - their belief in the commandment of this report. 

While it is apparent from al-Shahid (al-Thani) and a group (of scholars) that there is no dispute in it being forbidden.”

يظهر من المؤلف وابن بابويه رحمهما الله القول بمدلول الخبر ويظهر من الشهيد و جماعة عدم الخلاف في التحريم

It would thus appear that al-Kulayni and al-Saduq, whose methodology is based on tradition, took upon this batin interpretation of non-Muslims. 

Why did they take upon it? Likely, they believed the ruling is based on a batin interpretation of the Quran, thus it wouldn’t violate the Quran. 

Whereas al-Shahid al-Thani approaches the hadith from a jurisprudential lens - (i.e, seeing it as contradictory to principle of conforming to Quran and sunnah). Modern fiqh regarding this issue is based on al-Shahid al-Thani’s approach.

AB) Exclusionary

Imam al-Baqir permits his companions to falsely accuse and slander non-Shi’a, but mentions that it is mustahab to not do so. 

It is permissible, according to the Imam, because of the spiritual status of non-Shi’a as “sons of prostitutes”.

While this hadith goes against the Quranic principle of “Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon, the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend” (41:34).

A batin interpretation by our Imams of the Quran would exclude non-Shi’a from this, as it would view them as “sons of prostitutes” spiritually.

(Al-Kafi, vol 8, page 285)

“I told Abi Ja’far (al-Baqir):

Some of our companions falsely accuse and slander those who violate their beliefs (i.e, non-Shi’a).

He (the Imam) told me: Avoiding this is better. 

Then he (the Imam) said: Wallah, O Aba Hamza. The people are all sons of prostitutes except our Shi’a.”

عن أبي جعفر (عليه السلامقالقلت لهإن بعض أصحابنا يفترون ويقذفون من خالفهم (3)؟ فقال ليالكف عنهم أجمل، ثم قالوالله ياأبا حمزة إن الناس كلهم أولاد بغايا ما خلا شيعتنا، قلتكيف لي بالمخرج من هذا؟ فقال لي:

B) Loyal dedication and absolute power

The best way a spiritual leader can maintain an absolute hold over his followers’ lives is equating himself to their obligations.

For example, Allah obliges us to partake in Hajj. 

Our Imams proclaim to us they are the “Hajj” itself. This highlights the fact that the Imams are “Allah’s great names - whom Allah does not accept a person’s deed except with his ma’rifa for (the Ahlulbayt)” (Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 144).

Accordingly, Imam al-Sadiq says:

O Dawud, we are the prayer in Allah’s book. We are the Zakat, fasting, Hajj. We are the sacred month, we are the sacred city, we are the Ka’ba of Allah, we are the Qibla of Allah

يَا دَاوُدُ،نَحْنُ الصَّلاَةُ فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ،وَ نَحْنُ الزَّكَاةُ،وَ نَحْنُ الصِّيَامُ،وَ نَحْنُ الْحَجُّ،وَ نَحْنُ الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ،وَ نَحْنُ الْبَلَدُ الْحَرَامُ،وَ نَحْنُ كَعْبَةُاللَّهِ،وَ نَحْنُ قِبْلَةُ اللَّهِ

What are some of the connotations of the Imams being equal to Allah’s obligations?

  • Imams, the Ka’ba of Allah

Just like Tawaf is done around the Ka’ba in Mecca, Tawaf is done around the infallibles (as they are the Ka’ba of Allah itself).

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 353)

One day - as I was performing Tawaf over the grave of Rasul Allah, I saw Muhammad ibn Ali al-Ridha performing Tawaf over it..”

فقالبينا أنا ذات يوم دخلت أطوف بقبر رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله فرأيت محمد بن علي الرضا عليهما السلام يطوف به

  • Infallibles, the Qibla of Allah

One reason why it is permissible to do sujood to infallibles, is because they are the Qibla of Allah.

(Al-Ihtijaj by al-Tabrasi)

Imam al-Askari says:

Their [angels] sujood was not for Adam’s person. However, Adam was a Qibla for them to sujood towards (for the sake of) Allah

ولم يكن سجودهم لآدم، إنما كان آدم قبلة لهم يسجدون نحوه لله عز وجل

  • Imams, the Hajj of Allah

Similar to the Ismaili idea of Hajj Dhahiri and Hajj Batini, in which the Hajj Dhahiri is the known hajj to Mecca while the Hajj Batini is pilgrimage to the Imam.

Unlike Ismailism, Hajj Dhahiri was not abrogated in Imamism - and both hajj dhahiri and batini obligatory.

(Kamil al-Ziyarat, page 294)

I said to Imam al-Sadiq, “May I be sacrificed on you, I cannot afford to go to Hajj every year.” The Imam replied: If you ever wanted to go to the Hajj but could not afford it, go to the Ziyarat of Imam Husayn, for indeed it will be recorded as a Hajj for you.

483] 3 - حدثني أبي رحمه الله، عن سعد بن عبد الله، عن الحسن بن علي بن عبد الله بن المغيرة، عن عباس بن عامر، قالأخبرني عبد اللهبن عبيد الأنباري، قال:

قلت لأبي عبد الله (عليه السلام): جعلت فداك انه ليس كل سنة يتهيأ لي ما اخرج به إلى الحج، فقالإذا أردت الحج ولم يتهيأ لك فائت قبرالحسين (عليه السلامفإنها تكتب لك حجة،

(Kamil al-Ziyarat, 236)

Instruct our Shi’a to the visit the grave of Husayn, for visiting him is muftarad (obligatory pillar/ فريضة) upon every believer believing Husayn’s Imamate is from Allah

مروا شيعتنا بزيارة قبر الحسين (عليه السلام)، فان اتيانه مفترض على كل مؤمن يقر للحسين (عليه السلامبالإمامة من الله عز وجل 

  • Imams, the fasting of Allah

As Imams are the batin meaning of fasting, it is possible for them to dictate the obligation of fasting in a certain month other than Ramadan - such that breaking the fast would mean making up the fast and praying kafara.

We know that the differences among the Shi’a is due to the Imams ordering these differences.

Just like the Imam would order his Shi’a to pray at different times - so that they wouldn’t be known that they are united as one group.

Narrated Salim Abi Khadija from Abi Abdillah عليه السلام, he (Salim) said: a man asked [him] while I was present: I happen to enter the Masjid and one of our companions is praying the Asr prayer while another is praying Dhuhr [why this divergence]? He said: I ordered them to do that, if they were all to pray at one time they would be known and it would be off with their necks.”

عن سالم أبي خديجة، عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قالسأل إنسان وأنا حاضر فقالربما دخلت المسجد وبعض أصحابنا يصلي العصر،وبعضهم يصلي الظهر، فقالأنا أمرتهم بهذا لو صلوا على وقت واحد لعرفوا فاخذ برقابهم.

It is possible that the Imam ordered his Shi’a to also fast at different times (Ramadan and Sha’ban), but denied the fast of Ramadan as taqiyya from Shi’a.

Kulayni says:

(Al-Kafi, vol 4, page 94)

It is reported about the fasting of Sha’ban that he (peace be upon him) was asked about it and he said: 

‘The Messenger of God (may God bless him and his family) and none of my fathers fasted it.’ 

He said that because some people said: Its fasting (i.e, in Sha’ban) is an obligation like fasting the month of Ramadan, and its obligation is like the obligation of Ramadan, and if someone breaks his fast on a day of it, he has to pay the penance similar to what is obligatory for someone who breaks his fast on a day of Ramadan.”

جاء في صوم شعبان أنه سئل (عليه السلامعنه فقالما صامه رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآلهولا أحد من آبائيقال ذلك (2) لان قوماقالواإن صيامه فرض مثل صيام شهر رمضان ووجوبه مثل وجوب شهر رمضان وإن من أفطر يوما منه فعليه من الكفارة مثل ما على منأفطر يوما من شهر رمضانوإنما قول العالم (عليه السلام): ما صامه رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآلهولا أحد من آبائي (عليهم السلام). أي ما صاموه فرضا واجبا تكذيبا لقول من زعم أنه فرض وإنما كانوا يصومونه سنة

Wa Allahu A’lam