Abu al-Khattab, part 4: Identity of the Imam



In our last article, we discussed the concept of batinism and how it is implemented.

Evidently, the idea is very confusing to some because modern Shi’ism has limited the powers of the Imam. 

Given that we learned in my articles more on how the process of batinism happens, we need now to study why it happens.

Thus - the obvious question is raised. 

What is the justification behind giving the Imam authority to issue fatwas and ahadith, as he sees fit - without being subordinate to the dhahir “Quran and sunnah”?

To investigate this question, this article will challenge mainstream, modern Shi’i conception of Imamate.

Through an examination of Shi’i ahadith, we will try to get a picture of how the Babs viewed our Imams, and see things through their lens.

To understand their raison d’etre of believing the Imams can change Sharia, beyond the superficialties of defaming heresiographies. But rather - to focus on the basis of their beliefs.

The purpose is to provoke critical thinking - not to highlight my personal view, because as someone interested in my articles once said:

Nothing should be closed off from questioning. If we believe there is evidence to demonstrate that a theological or historical event are indeed true, then we should not shy away from answering questions about these things

So without further adue

Let us begin!

Identity of the Imam

One of the basic foundations we have of the modern Shi’i conception of Imamate, is that there are 12 different Imams. Equal in knowledge, but supersede each other in rank by virtue of seniority. 

The greatest Imam of them would be Imam Ali, from whose lineage Imamate existed. The great prophet (and Imam) superseding even Ali - is prophet Muhammad. 

But just how true is this difference?

One of the defining facets of the distinction between Imams is that none should be called “Amir al-Mu’mineen” (Commander of the Faithful) except Imam Ali. Not even another Imam can be attributed this title.  

The following hadith highlights this idea:

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 411)

Narrated Umar ibn Zahir, on the authority of Abi Abdullah (al-Sadiq) peace be upon him, that he said: 

“A man asked him (the Imam) about the Qaim - will he (the Qa’im) be greeted with the title of “Amir al-Mu’mineen”? 

He (Imam al-Sadiq) said: No, that is a name that God named the Commander of the Faithful (Imam Ali), peace be upon him, with which no one was named before him.”

2 - محمد بن يحيى، عن جعفر بن محمد قالحدثني إسحاق بن إبراهيم الدينوري عن عمر بن زاهر، عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قالسأله رجل عن القائم يسلم عليه بإمرة المؤمنين؟ قاللا ذاك اسم سمى الله به أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام، لم يسم به أحد قبله

Naturally, like Shi’i ahadith in general, we find a hadith contradicting the above hadith.

In the following hadith from Shaykh al-Mufid’s al-Ikhtisas, Imam al-Sadiq accepts someone addressing him (Imam al-Sadiq) as Amir al-Mu’mineen. 

When the Imam’s companion was puzzled how al-Sadiq can accept that title, Imam al-Sadiq said that the Imams are equal. What is allocated for the first of them (Prophet Muhammad & Imam Ali) is allocated for all of the Imams, until the last (Imam al-Mahdi).

(Al-Ikhtisas, page 268)

On the authority of Abu al-Sabah, the freed slave of the family of Sam, he said: 

We were with Abu Abdullah (al-Sadiq), peace be upon him, Abu al-Maghra and I, when a man from the people of al-Sawad (i.e, southern Iraq) entered upon us and said (to Imam al-Sadiq): 

Peace be upon you, O Amir al-Mu’mineen. 

Abu Abdullah said to him: Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you. 

Then he (Imam) drew him and made him sit beside him, so I said to Abu Al-Maghra, or Abu Al-Maghra said to me: This name I did not believe anyone can be greeted by it except the Commander of the Faithful - Imam Ali, may the blessings of God be upon him. 

The Imam then said me: O Abu Al-Sabah, no servant will find the truth of faith until he knows that what is for the last of us is what is for the first of us.”

عن أبي الصباح مولى آل سام، قالكنا عند أبي عبد الله عليه السلام أنا وأبو المغرا إذ دخل علينا رجل من أهل السواد فقالالسلام عليكيا أمير المؤمنين ورحمة الله وبركاته، قال له أبو عبد اللهالسلام عليك ورحمة الله وبركاته، ثم اجتذبه وأجلسه إلى جنبه، فقلت لأبي المغرا أو قاللي أبو المغراإن هذا الاسم ما كنت أرى أحدا " يسلم به إلا على أمير المؤمنين علي صلوات الله عليه، فقال لي أبو عبد الله عليه السلامياأبا الصباح إنه لا يجد عبد حقيقة الإيمان حتى يعلم أن ما لآخرنا ما لأولنا

  • Evaluation:

A) Overview 

The difference in connotation between the two above ahadith form a part of the greater debate on the nature of our Imams.

Are are the Imams merely pious scholars, gifted with indirectly transmitted knowledge from God and some miracles?

Or are they more than that? 

The first hadith would suggest that the Imams are distinct from each other in rank. Hence, the Qa’im cannot be addressed as ‘Amir al-Mu’mineen’.

This would necessitate that the Imams do not receive knowledge that can be classified as wahi - as the only person receiving wahi (divinely inspired commands in religion, often verbal) is Prophet Muhammad.

As Shaykh al-Mufid says:

(Tashih I’tiqadat al-Imamiyyah, page 121)

And we believe that Allah allows his hujjaj (Imams) to hear speech (of angels) regarding what will happen in the future - even after the Prophet.

However, this mustn’t be called wahi because we have presented the ijma’ (consensus) of Muslims that there is no wahi [to anyone] after the Prophet.

وعندنا أن الله تعالى يسمع الحجج بعد نبيه صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم كلاما يلقيه إليهم (11) في علم ما يكون، لكنه لا يطلق عليه اسم الوحيلما قدمناه (12) من إجماع المسلمين على أنه لا وحي [إلى أحد] (13) بعد

This belief is problematic. If the Imams receively divinely inspired knowledge that is not labeled as wahi - which is specifically divinely inspired knowledge allocated for the infallibles learning and teaching the religion.

Then in that case, the contradictions in our Imams’ ahadith can be explained away as the Imams learning the principles of religion incorrectly from their predecessors. Or to misinterpretation of the knowledge Allah inspired in them. 

After all, what are they but pious scholars? With this belief, the knowledge between Imams is not truly equal and prone to mistake.

The second hadith meanwhile posits that the Imams are equal in everyway. In rank and in knowledge. By Imam al-Sadiq holding the distinctive position of Amir al-Mu’mineen reserved only for Imam Ali, on the basis of “what is for the last of us is what is for the first of us”. 

Then naturally, the prophetic position of prophet Muhammad - reserved only for him - would also be applicable to the rest of the Imams.

This idea would make more sense logically speaking, as the contradictions in our hadith would stem directly from divine wahi.  If originating from wahi, the contradictions cannot be seen as contradictions or mistakes. 

But rather, two mutually exclusive commands each with a different purpose but same source (divine wisdom).

However - we are not permitted to derive our religious commands from logic alone. For an objective reality of our Imams’ nature and see which of the two above ahadith is relevant to our Imams’ true teachings, we must look at the words of the Babs.

B) The Imams As Messengers?

We have learned from Imam al-Sadiq’s hadith that later Imams held the distinctive position of Amir al-Mu’mineen reserved only for Imam Ali, on the basis of “what is for the last of us is what is for the first of us”. 

But is this assertion by the Imam an objective truth? Even if so, the later Imams simply holding Imam Ali’s position has no effect on Sharia. Because Imamate is subordinate to Prophethood - and only prophets bring a new sharia.

To answer this enquiry - we must redefine our conception of Imamate through the lens of the Babs.

The Imam’s holy gates (Babs) have transmitted to us ahadith showing that the position of “Messenger” (and thus also prophet) was held by the Imams.

Below are two ahadith by Jabir, the Bab of Imam al-Baqir highlighting this idea:

  1. (Tafsir al-‘Ayyashi, vol 2, page 123) 

On the authority of Jabir, on the authority of Abu Jaafar, peace be upon him, he said: 

I asked him (the Imam) about the interpretation of this verse:

(And for every nation is a messenger. So when their messenger comes, it will be judged between them in justice, and they will not be wronged.) (Quran 10:47)

He (Imam) said:

The verse’s interpretation in the batin is that every generation of this ummah has a messenger from the family of Muhammad, peace be upon them, who goes out to the generation to whom he is a messenger (to judge between them).

And they (Imams) are the saints and they are the messengers.”

تفسير العياشيعن جابر عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قالسألته عن تفسير هذه الآية:

(لكل أمة رسول فإذا جاء رسولهم قضي بينهم بالقسط وهم لا يظلمونقال:

تفسيرها بالباطن أن لكل قرن من هذه الأمة رسولا من آل محمد عليهم السلام يخرج إلى القرن الذي هو إليهم رسول وهم الأولياء وهم الرسل

  1. (Tafsir al-‘Ayyashi, vol 1, page 49) 

On the authority of Jabir, on the authority of Abu Jaafar, peace be upon him, he said: 

As for His saying: (But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed.)(Quran 2:87) 

Abu Jaafar, peace be upon him, said: That is the example speaking if Moses, and the messengers after him, and Jesus, was presented to the ummah of Muhammad, peace be upon him. 

God said to them (Muslims): If Muhammad brings you what yourselves do not desire in allegiance to Ali, you become arrogant? 

So a party [of Al Muhammad] you denied and another party you killed

That is its tafsir in batin.”

٨ - تفسير العياشيعن جابر عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قالأما قوله: (أفكلما جاءكم رسول بما لا تهوى أنفسكمالآية إلى ﴿يعملون﴾ (5) قال أبو جعفر عليه السلامذلك مثل موسى والرسل من بعده وعيسى صلوات الله عليه ضرب لامة محمد صلى الله عليه وآله مثلا فقال الله لهمفإن جاءكم محمد بما لا تهوى أنفسكم بموالاة علي استكبرتم ففريقا من آل محمد كذبتم وفريقا تقتلون، فذلك تفسيرها في الباطن (6).

Both of these ahadith transmitted by Jabir, reflected on beliefs held by our Imams’ later Babs such as al-Mu’ala ibn Khunays (a Bab of al-Sadiq):

(Rijal al-Kashi, p 145)

On authority of Abi al-Abbas al-Baqqaq

Ibn Abi Ya’fur and Mu’ala ibn Khunays had a discussion. 

Ibn Abi Yafour said: The awsiya’ are righteous, pious, scholars. 

Ibn Khunays said: The awsiya’ are prophets. 

So they entered upon Abi Abdullah, peace be upon him, and sat down.

Abi Abdillah, peace be upon him, started them and said: O Abdullah (ibn Abi Ya’fur), I am disassociate of what he said that: we (awsiya’) are prophets”

48 - رجال الكشيمحمد بن الحسن وعثمان معا عن محمد بن زياد (3) عن محمد بن الحسين عن الحجال عن أبي مالك الحضرمي عنأبي العباس البقباق قالتذاكر ابن أبي يعفور ومعلى بن خنيس فقال ابن أبي يعفورالأوصياء علماء أبرار أتقياء، وقال ابن خنيسالأوصياء أنبياء قالفدخلا على أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قالفلما استقر (4) مجلسهما قالفبدأهما أبو عبد الله عليه السلام فقاليا عبدالله أبرأ مما قال (5): أنا أنبياء

The mere fact the Bab affirmed this belief is supporting evidence for it having originated from the Imam’s orders grounded on objective truth. 

The Imam’s denial is notwithstanding, as the Babs are the Imam’s thiqat (trusted elite) - to whom the Imam’s shared their secrets, and represent him in word and action:

(Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol 2, page 579)

There is no excuse for our followers to doubt what our thiqat narrate. 

They have known that we share our secrets with them and carry it over to them.”

But the question remains: 

The Bab’s testimony makes it established that the Imams held a prophetic position. 

However, under what basis? And what implications does this have on their authority to define the Quran and Sunnah?

C) The Imams & Changing Ahkam of Quran & Sunnah

In (al-Nu’mani’s Kitab al-Ghayba, vol 1, page 236) Imam al-Baqir said:

The Qa’im will rise with a new matter (i.e, religion), a new book, a new legislation - harsh upon the Arabs, uncompromising with usage of the sword, does not offer clemency, and do not fear the blame of a critic.”

19 - وأخبرنا علي بن الحسين، بإسناده عن أحمد بن محمد بن أبي نصر، عن عاصم بن حميد الحناط، عن أبي بصير، قال:

قال أبو جعفر (عليه السلام): يقوم القائم بأمر جديد، وكتاب جديد، وقضاء جديد، على العرب شديد، ليس شأنه إلا السيف، ولا يستتيبأحدا، ولا تأخذه في الله لومة لائم " ((3)).

The Qa’im will rise with a new book, a new sharia (legislation), and a new matter (religion).

Given the Imams’ prophetic position, it is feasible for the Imam to bring a new sharia. 

But how can this new sharia reconcile with Imam al-Sadiq’s words that:

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 58)

The halal of Muhammad is halal forever under the Day of Judgement. And his haram is haram forever until the Day of Judgement. There is no (sharia) other than it, and no (sharia) will replace it

حلال محمد حلال أبدا إلى يوم القيامة، وحرامه حرام أبدا إلى يوم القيامة، لا يكون غيره ولا يجيئ غيره

The answer to this is the Ahlulbayt are functionally one entity. They are all Muhammad.

There is no such thing as for example Imam al-Sadiq changing the laws of prophet Muhammad, it is prophet Muhammad changing his OWN laws through the form of Imam al-Sadiq.

(Bihar al-Anwar, vol 16, page 16)

We (the Ahlulbayt) are One. We from one Light, and our Spirit is by the command of Allah.

The first of us is Muhammad, the middle of us is Muhammad, the last of us is Muhammad.

And we are all Muhammad

وكلنا واحد من نور واحد وروحنا من أمر الله، أولنا محمد وأوسطنا محمد وآخرنا محمد وكلنا محمد.

Therefore, if the Imams introduce a hadith, fatwa, or religious practice contradicting those introduced by the Prophet in his lifetime.

Then, this new hadith or fatwa is not an innovation from the Prophet’s words.

Because the Imams continue supernaturally receiving new ahadith ahkam from the Prophet - even after his apparent death.

Every single word uttered by the Imams in their life stems from the Prophet.

If the Imams hypothetically decide to make prayers 10 times a day instead of 5, then these additional prayers must be attributed to the Prophet as well. 

As this knowledge only was supernaturally transmitted to the Imams through the Prophet.

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 255)

I heard Abu Jaa’far, peace be upon him, say: 

If it were not for the fact that we are increased in knowledge (by receiving wahi), we would have ran out (by giving detailed answers).

I said: Are you adding something that the Messenger of God, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him and his family, does not know? 

He (the Imam) said: As for that, any knowledge is first presented to the Messenger of God, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him and his family, then to the Imams (one by one), till the matter ends with us (the present Imam)”

محمد بن يحيى، عن أحمد بن محمد، عن ابن أبي نصر، عن ثعلبة، عن زرارة قالسمعت أبا جعفر عليه السلام يقوللولا أنا نزداد لأنفدنا،قالقلتتزدادون شيئا لا يعلمه رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله؟ قالأما إنه إذا كان ذلك عرض على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله ثم علىالأئمة ثم انتهى الامر إلينا.

The Prophet thus did not die when in his apparent death in 632 CE. 

The Shi’a continued receiving Prophetic wahi after his death, through the Imams. That is how the Imams are all Muhammad.

They are merely body forms which the Prophet utilized to continue guiding the Shi’a.

Since the Prophet cannot be reborn as a non-prophet, all the Imams are messengers (as the hadith of the Bab clarified).

And all their words must be attributed to the Prophet.

The following hadith clarifies how the Imam’s words are all equal, and their ahadith are not separate. A hadith from Imam al-Sadiq can be attributed directly to Rasul Allah - even if Rasul Allah did not say it in his lifetime.

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 51)

Abi Basir narrates:

I asked Abi Abdilah (al-Sadiq) - 

The hadith I hear from you. Do I narrate it from you, or narrate it from your father?

He (Imam) said: Both are equal, except that you narrate it from my father is more beloved to me.

Abi Abdilah (al-Sadiq) said to his companion Jamil: Whatever you hear from me, narrate it from my father.

وعنه، عن أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى، عن الحسين بن سعيد، عن القاسم بن محمد، عن علي بن أبي حمزة، عن أبي بصير قالقلت لأبي عبدالله عليه السلامالحديث أسمعه منك أرويه عن أبيك أو أسمعه من أبيك أرويه عنك؟ قالسواء إلا أنك ترويه عن أبي أحب إليوقال أبو عبدالله عليه السلام لجميلما سمعت مني فاروه عن أبي.

As Allah’s Messenger, wahi of the Quran continued flowing upon the Prophet in all his forms of later Imams. “It flows on the last of us as it flows on the first of us.

Thus, a new Quranic hukm can be construed - originating from prophetic wahi - through the Imam offering a new batin interpretation.

As the Quran is always alive and does not die.

Abu Abdullah, peace be upon him, said:

The Qur’an is alive and does not die.

It flows as the night and the day flow, it flows as the sun and the moon flow, and it flows on the last of us as it flows on the first of us.

وقال عبد الرحيمقال أبو عبد الله عليه السلام:

إن القرآن حي لم يمت، وإنه يجري كما يجري الليل والنهار، وكما يجري الشمس والقمر، ويجري على آخرنا كما يجري على أولنا

Given so, the Qa’im can only bring a new Sharia because he is prophetic in nature - and moreso, a body form of Prophet Muhammad. 

Such is the case of all our Imams.

Wa Allahu A’lam!