Abu al-Khattab, part 6: The Walking Qurans
In my previous articles, we have learned that Sharia under the Imams continued undergoing changes and evolution, even after the death of Allah’s Messenger.
The Imam’s authority stems from the fact that he directly receives the same wahi which prophet Muhammad receives, on the grounds of “We are All Muhammad.”
Any change he makes must be attributed to Rasul Allah, even if Rasul Allah did not make that change in his life time.
As the representation of the Prophet, the Imam’s power is not bound to merely implementing existent commands found in dhahir (apparent) verses of the Quran.
Rather, he can be best described as a literal ‘walking Quran’ - with ability to abrogate and issue new commands, as he sees fit.
The Quran consists of both dhahir and batin (esoteric) verses. Being the Quran itself, not only the Imam may decide the meaning of the batin - but also the meaning & implementation of the dhahir.
Thus, the purpose of this article is to understand the context, rationale, and justification of equating the Quran with the figure of Imam - in order to allow the Imam to revise Sharia.
So, let us begin!
1 ) “The Book of Allah and My Family”
Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, had a task over his ummah aside from his prophetic role.
Rather, “Muhammad and Ali are the fathers of this ummah” - as Imam al-Askari eloquently clarified. (Tafsir al-‘Askari, page 330).
And in his duty as Prophet, Muhammad was to follow the guidance of the prophets before him.
“These ˹prophets˺ were ˹rightly˺ guided by Allah, so follow their guidance.” (6:90)
Being so, the prophets before Muhammad strongly cared for the religious fate of their children after their (the prophets’ death).
This can be seen when “death approached Jacob, when he said to his sons, "What will you worship after me? They replied, “We will ˹continue to˺ worship your God, the God of your forefathers—Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac—the One God. And to Him we ˹all˺ submit.” (2:133)
Taking up the guidance of his prophetic predecessors in caring about the religious fate of his children after his death, the Prophet made a speech on his Farewell Pilgrimage.
Nearly approaching death, he urged the believers of his ummah (his spiritual children) to follow two things in order to not be led to error after him:
The book of Allah and the Prophet’s family.
(Al-Kafi, vol 2, page 415)
“I (Prophet) leave among you two matters which, if you cling to them, you shall not be led into error after me.
The book of Allah [Quran] and my progeny, my Ahlulbayt.
For indeed, Allah - The Kind, the All-Knowing, had promised me that they (Quran & Ahlulbayt) will never be separate...”
قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله) في آخر خطبته يوم قبضه الله عز وجل إليه: إني قد تركت فيكم أمرين لن تضلوا بعدي ما إن تمسكتمبهما: كتاب الله وعترتي أهل بيتي، فإن اللطيف الخبير قد عهد إلي أنهما لن يفترقا
When one looks at this famous hadith (Hadith al-Thaqalayn) in the hadiths of Sunnis, he may come under the illusion that advised the believers to take upon two separate matters: Quran and Ahlulbayt.
However when one looks at our Shi’i ahadith, we can see that the Prophet clarified that “they (Quran & Ahlulbayt) will never be separate”.
Why mention them separately then?
It is a Quranic style of using the word “and” to describe the exact same matter.
As in the verse below: ‘Those who do not expect the meeting with Allah’ are not different from ‘those who are heedless (unaware) of Our signs.
Both of their fates is hellfire.
“Indeed, those who do not expect the meeting with Us and are satisfied with the life of this world and feel secure therein and those who are heedless of Our signs.
For those their refuge will be the Fire because of what they used to earn” (10:7-8)
However, God mentions them separately to draw emphasis to these attributes - even though in essence, they are one. Not separate.
But in order to emphasize that the Quran (a weighty thing) cannot be understood alone but only with another equally weighty thing (the Ahlulbayt). Hence, the Thaqalayn (two weighty things) are formed.
Thus, the Quran and Ahlulbayt are outwardly two matters but in essence - they are one.
Why? Because the Ahlulbayt are in unison with the Quran, they are walking living Qurans who tell us what each verse (in its dhahir and batin meaning) are.
2 ) “An Opaque Quran”?
Now, one may argue that the fact the Quran cannot be understood alone or that batin interpretations offering a contradictory explanation to the dhahir makes it “opaque”.
Meaning, the Quran is obscure and cannot be understood. And in that case, do we even know what Islam is?
The answer to this is that the Quran revealed to Muhammad and the Prophet taught to Muslims, included dhahir and batin interpretations.
In general, it revealed everything the ummah will ever need for their existence.
The Prophet transmitted this knowledge to Imam Ali, who regarding his compilation of the Quran:
(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 64)
“Whatever verse was revealed to Rasul Allah - from verses of the Quran - except that he recited it to me, and dictated it to me.
So I wrote it with my handwriting. And he gave me knowledge of its ta’wil (batin interpretation), tafsir, nasikh and mansookh (abrogated verses), its muhkam and mutashabih, and its general and specific.”
فما نزلت على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله آية من القرآن إلا أقرأنيها وأملاها علي فكتبتها بخطي وعلمني تأويلها وتفسيرها وناسخهاومنسوخها، ومحكمها ومتشابهها، وخاصها وعامها
The Sahaba objected, exclaiming they already have their own comprehensive mushafs. That they do not need Ali’s - mushaf which includes all the knowledge of the Quran (including the batin).
(Al-Kafi, vol 2, page 633)
“Ali (peace be upon him) brought it (the Quran) out to the people after he finished writing it down, so he said to them:
This is the book of God Almighty as [God] revealed it to Muhammad (may God bless him and his family).
They (Sahaba) said: ‘We have a comprehensive Mushaf [i.e, Quran] already, we have no need for your Mushaf (O Ali)’
He said, By God, you will never see it (my Quran compilation) after this day of yours, but I had to tell you when I gathered it for you to read it”
Something becomes clear now. That is the Quran in the Sahaba’s after the Prophet’s death is only a mere fraction of what it was during his lifetime!
Rather, the whole Quran - Kitab of Ali was passed from Imam Ali to his Imam successors, until it reached the Qa’im.
But aspects of it - the ta’wil (batin) - was kept a secret from the Mukhalifeen. And only taught to the Imam’s Shia.
The batin is continuously evolving, as it “travels with precision, like the Sun and Moon”. It contains knowledge of the past and future.
(Tafsir al-Safi, vol 1, page 21)
“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.
This is the meaning Allah’s verse: ‘And none shall know its ta’wil except Allah and those firmly established”
عن الفضيل بن يسار قال: سئلت 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؟ قال: ظهره 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
When the known companion Burayd ibn Muawiyah (a disciple of Zurarah) told Imam al-Baqir:
Abu al-Khattab is teaching teachings that the Imam is supernaturally transmitted new knowledge about Quran & matters of halal and haram.
The Imam confirmed that Abu al-Khattab’s statement is valid:
The knowledge and commandments of the Quran change, and those related to halal and haram (from sunnah), also undergo evolution and change.
This is because like every single day and night involves new situations that require new knowledge.
This new knowledge is supernaturally transmitted to each Imam.
The following hadith of sahih clarifies:
(Tafsir al-Qummi, vol 1, page 97)
“Narrated Burayd ibn Muawiyah:
Abi Ja’far [al-Baqir] said that the Messenger of God, is the best of those firmly rooted in knowledge. He knew all that God had revealed to him of tanzil and ta’wil.
God would not reveal to him (the Prophet) except that he taught him its ta’wil.
And his awsiya’ (successors) know it (the Quran & its ta’wil) all.
I (narrator) said: May I be sacrificed for you, Abu al-Khattab said about you a great matter.
He (Imam) said, “What was he saying?”
I (narrator) said: He says that you know the science of halal and haram and the Qur’an (i.e, supernaturally transmitted this knowledge).
He (Imam) said: Knowledge of the halal and haram, and the Qur’an, go hand in hand with the knowledge that occurs at night and during the day.”
حدثني أبي عن ابن أبي عمير عن ابن أذينة عن بريد بن معاوية عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله أفضلالراسخين في العلم قد علم جميع ما انزل الله عليه من التنزيل والتأويل وما كان الله لينزل عليه شيئا لم يعلمه تأويله وأوصياؤه من بعدهيعلمونه كله، قال قلت جعلت فداك ان أبا الخطاب كان يقول فيكم قولا عظيما، قال وما كان يقول؟ قلت إنه يقول انكم تعلمون علم الحلالوالحرام والقرآن قال علم الحلال والحرام والقرآن يسير في جنب العلم الذي يحدث في الليل والنهار
In Imam al-Sadiq’s era, another companion - Muhammad ibn Muslim - asked Imam al-Sadiq about Abu al-Khattab’s aforementioned teachings.
In this sahih hadith, Al-Sadiq confirmed his father’s words that the Imams receive new knowledge related to the Quran & halal and haram.
(Shaykh al-Mufid’s Al-Ikhtisas, page 314)
“On the authority of Muhammad ibn Muslim, he said: I said to Abu Abdullah, peace be upon him, what I heard on the authority of Abu al-Khattab
He (Imam) said: “Present it to me.”
He (narrator) said: “He (Abu al-Khattab) says that you (Imam) know what is permissible and what is forbidden, and judgement between people” (i.e, supernaturally transmitted it)
When I tried to get up, the Imam grabbed my hand and said:
Knowledge of the halal and haram, and the Qur’an, go hand in hand with the knowledge that occurs at night and during the day”
حدثنا محمد بن عيسى بن عبيد عن يونس عن هشام بن سالم عن محمد بن مسلم قال قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام كلام سمعته عن أبيالخطاب فقال اعرضه على قال فقلت يقول انكم تعلمون الحلال والحرام وفصل ما بين الناس فلما أردت القيام اخذ بيدي فقال عليه السلام يامحمد علم القرآن والحلال والحرام يسير في جنب العلم الذي يحدث في الليل والنهار
It becomes clear that Kitab Ali is not only an actual book, but rather is symbolic of the Imam’s person.
As the knowledge (Quran & halal and haram of the sunnah) that was present with Rasul Allah is supernaturally transmitted to the Imams.
And this knowledge is not limited to Rasul Allah’s knowledge in his lifetime.
Rather, the Imam can address new issues by issuing ahadith and commands contradicting those of Rasul Allah.
These new commands must be attributed to Rasul Allah, as the Imams issue them based on prophetic wahi they receive in “every year, every month, and wallah - every hour”.
(Basa’ir al-Darajat, page 415)
“On the authority of Abu Hamza Al-Thumali, on the authority of Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn, he said:
I (narrator) said: “May I be sacrified for you.
Everything (of knowledge) that was with the Messenger of God, was given to the Commander of the Faithful after him, then al-Hasan after the Commander of the Faithful, then al-Husayn, then every imam until the Hour is established.
He (Imam al-Sajjad) said: “Yes, including the increase in knowledge (supernaturally transmitted from the Imams’ predecessors) - that occurs in every year, every month, and by Allah, even in every hour.”
حدثنا أحمد بن محمد عن عمر بن عبد العزيز عن محمد بن الفضيل عن أبي حمزة الثمالي عن علي بن الحسين قال قلت جعلت فداك كل ماكان عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله فقد أعطاه أمير المؤمنين بعده ثم الحسن بعد أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام ثم الحسين ثم كل امام إلى أنتقوم الساعة قال نعم مع الزيادة التي تحدث في كل سنة وفى كل شهر أي والله وفى كل ساعة
Because the Imams receive direct wahi from the Prophet (who is alive with his Lord) on new matters.
They have the authority to abrogate commands which the Prophet made during his lifetime.
Meaning, hypothetically: If the prophet designates Mecca as the Qibla, and the Imam designates Karbala as the Qibla.
That would be possible, and we would see the Imam’s designation being as if the Prophet himself made this designation. Hence, we would accept it and see it as binding.
(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 64)
“On the authority of Muhammad ibn Muslim, on the authority of Abu Abdullah, peace be upon him,
I said to him (the Imam): What is the matter with people who narrate on the authority of so-and-so from the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family - and are not accused of lying - yet something contradictory to it comes from you?
He (the Imam) said: The hadith is abrogated just as the Qur’an is abrogated.”
العدة، عن أحمد بن محمد، عن عثمان بن عيسى، عن أبي أيوب الخزاز عن محمد بن مسلم، عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قال: قلت له: ما بالأقوام يروون عن فلان وفلان عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله لا يتهمون بالكذب فيجيئ منكم خلافه؟ قال: إن الحديث ينسخ كما ينسخالقرآن.
Thus, upon the idea of the Quran and sunnah’s daily evolution being the core of the ta’wil of the Quran - the Imam could use his prerogative in defining the batin to change sharia as he wishes.
This was Abu al-Khattab’s idea of the batin, and his Imams confirmed the validity of his teachings in the discussed sahih ahadith.
The batin is not something “opaque” which clouds the true meaning of the Quran.
Rather, it is its most integral component that existed from the time of Rasul Allah, and ensured the Quran’s survival into the time of the Qa’im - by allowing for continuous change, relevant to the era of each Imam.
The concept of the Quran’s batin evolution may sound strange, but then again - our Imam al-Sadiq says:
“When the Qa’im rises, the one who thought he belonged to our matter (the Mahdi’s state) will leave it.
And the ones who (in the eyes of others) resemble worshippers of the Sun and Moon will enter our matter”
أخبرني من سمع أبا عبد الله (عليه السلام) يقول: إذا خرج القائم (عليه السلام) خرج من هذا الأمر من كان يرى أنه من أهله ودخل فيه شبهعبدة الشمس والقمر
So think critically dear brothers and sisters
What if the person or groups you personally see as a ‘Ghali’ - are actually not Ghulat, but those who are venerating the Imams the way the Imams want to be venerated?
May Allah guide us all
Wa Allahu A’lam