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Shia's belief about Infallibility of the Imams

By Dr. Taijani Samavi

The Shi'ah observe: The Imam — like the Prophet — should be infallible against (perpetrating) all kinds of indecencies and vices, whether the apparent or hidden ones, deliberately or out of forgetfulness, from childhood till death.

Further, he should be immune against any lapse, erring and oblivion, since the Imams are the guardians of the Islamic Law, and responsible for bringing it into effect, exactly as the Prophet is. The evidence that made us believe in the infallibility of the prophets being the same one obligating us to believe in the infallibility of the Imams, with no slight difference.

This is clearly the Shi'ah's opinion regarding the issue of infallibility ('ismah). Does it contain anything contradicting the Qur'ān and Sunnah? Or what can't be imagined by reason? Or that which disgraces and be detrimental to Islam, or belittling the status of the Prophet or the Imam?

Far it be from it and verily it is not so; we never see in this saying but a confirmation to the Book of Allah and His Prophet's Sunnah, and that which goes on with the sound reason, without contradicting it, but rather that which elevates and honours the Prophet and the Imam.

We initiate our discussion with following up the Holy Qur'ān:

Allah, the Exalted, said:

"Verily, verily God intendeth but to keep off from you (every kind of) uncleanness O' ye the people of the House, and purify you (with) a thorough purification)...." (33:33)

If removing the uncleanness that includes all kinds of mischiefs, and purifying from all sins, do not denote 'ismah, but what does it mean then??

The Almighty Allah says:

"Verily those who guard (themselves against evil) when an evil thought from the Satan afflicteth them, they become mindful (of God and get awakened) then lo! They see (aright)." (7:201)

So if the pious believer bring protected by Allah against the stratagems of the Satan, when trying to provoking and misleading him, so as to become mindful and see the truth and follow it, what to say then regarding those whom were chosen by Allah the Glorious, removing uncleanness from and purifying them a thorough purification??

Allah says in another verse: "Then made We the inheritors of the Book (Qur'ān) those whom chose We from among Our servants ..." (35:32). And undoubtedly that who is chosen by Allah, the Glorified, should be immaculate from errors. By this verse, in particular, al-'Imām al-Ridā ('a) argued against the 'ulamā' gathered by the 'Abbāsid Caliph al-Ma'mun ibn Hārun al-Rashid, proving to them that they (Ahl al-Bayt Imams) being verily the ones meant by the afore-mentioned verse, and whom Allah has chosen and made inheritors of the knowledge of the Book, whereat they ('ulamā') admitted and acknowledged that fact. [Ibn 'Abd Rabbih, al-'Iqd al-farid, Vol. III, p. 42.]

These were some examples from the Holy Qur'ān, and other verses are there indicating infallibility for the Imams, like His saying, "....leaders guiding (the people) by Our command", beside other verses, but we suffice with these ones due to brevity."

After the Holy Qur'ān, we cite some proofs from the Prophetic Sunnah:

The Messenger of Allah (S) said:

"O people, I am leaving among you that which if you hold on to, you shall never go astray: the Book of Allah and my kindred, my household."

 [Sahih al-Tirmidhi, Vol. V, p. 328; Mustadrak al-Hākim, Vol. III, p. 148; al-'Imām Ahmad in his Musnad, Vol. V, p. 189.]

It is expressly indicating the Ahl al-Bayt Imams' being infallible, since: First, the Book of Allah is verily unassailable, that falsehood cannot come at it from before it or from behind it, and is verily the word of Allah, that whoever doubts it has in fact denied God. Second: Due to the fact that the one holding on to them both (the Book and 'Itrah) will be safe against astrayal and misguidance. So this hadith indicated clearly that lapse can never be found in the Book and 'Itrah.

The Messenger of Allah (S) has also said:

"Verily, the parable of my ahl al-bayt is that of the boat of Noah; Whoever gets aboard it is saved, and whoever stays away from it is drowned."

[Mustadrak al-Hākim, Vol. II, p. 343; Kanz al-'ummāl, Vol. V, p. 95; al-Sawā'iq al-muhriqah, of Ibn Hajar, p. 184.]

As clearly seen, this hadith expressly stating that Ahl al-Bayt Imams ('a) being infallible against (committing) sins, so anyone getting aboard their ark shall be saved, while that staying away from it shall be drowned in misguidance (dalālah).

Further, the Messenger of Allah said:

"Whoever desires to live my life and dies my death, and enters the heavens with which my Lord has promised me, which is the Land of the Leal (jannat al-khuld), he should follow the guide of 'Ali and his offspring after him. They shall verily never take you out of the door of guidance and never bring you into the door of dalālah (misguidance)."

[Kanz al-'ummāl, Vol. VI, p. 155; al-Haythami in Majma' al-zawā'id, Vol. IX, p. 108; Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalāni in al-'Isābah; al-Tabarāni in al-Jāmi' al-Kabir; Ta'rikh Ibn 'Asākir, Vol. II, p. 99; Mustadrak al-Hākim, Vol. III, p. 128; Hilyat al-'awliyā', Vol. IV, p. 349; Ihqāq al-haqq, Vol. V, p. 108.]

It is also expressly stating that the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, who are 'Ali and his progeny, being infallible against any lapse, since they never bring their followers into misguidance. And it is intuitive that anyone liable to commit a lapse, can never guide other people.

The Messenger of Allah (S) said:

"I am the warner, and 'Ali is the guide. And the rightly guided will be guided by you O 'Ali after me."

Again this hadith explicitly shows the Imam's being infallible, as it is unhidden for those who have understanding.

Al-'Imām 'Ali himself has proved infallibility to be enjoyed by him and the Imams among his sons when he said:

"So wither are you going to, and how are you then turned away? Ensigns (of guidance) are standing, indications (of virtue) are clear, and the miracles (of light) have been fixed. Where are you being taken astray and how are you groping while you have among you the descendants of the Prophet? They are the reins of Right, ensigns of Faith and tongues of truth. Accord to them the same good position as you accord to the Qur'ān, and come to them (for quenching the thirst of guidance) as the thirsty camels approach the water spring.

O' people, take this saying of the last of the prophets that he who dies from among us is not dead, and he who decays (after dying) from among us does not really decay. Do not say what you do not understand, because most of the Right is in what you deny. Accept the argument of one against whom you have no argument. It is I. Did I not act before you on the greater thaql (i.e. the Qur'ān) and did I not retain among you the smaller thaql (al-thaql al-'asghar, i.e. the descendants of the Prophet). I fixed among you the standard of faith ..." [Nahj al-balāghah, Kutbah No. 87. In his exposition of this sermon, Muhammad 'Abduh made this commentary: Any of Ahl al-Bayt Imams may die, but in fact he is not dead, since his spirit remains effulging light and brighness over the world of being.]

After all these statements and excerptions from the Holy Qur'ān, and the Prophetic Sunnah, and sayings of al-'Imām 'Ali all indicating the infallibility of all Imams (peace be upon them), can the intellect reject the 'ismah of that who is chosen by Allah to guide (people)? The reply is definitely. No it can't refuse this.On the contrary, reason ('Aql) believes in the obligation of that 'ismah, due to the fact that the one who is entrusted the task of leadership and guiding the mankind, can never be an ordinary human being subject to laspe and oblivion, burdened with sins and heavy guilts, so as to be vulnerable to vilification and criticism of people.

Rather, the reason necessitates that he (the Imam) should be the most knowledgeable, equitable, courageous and righteous of his time, the characteristics elevating the position of the leader, and glorifying him in the view of people. They too make all people to venerating and appreciating, and consequently obeying them without any reservation or adulation.

If so be the case, what causes all this vilification and exaggeration against whoever believing in this?

When listening to and reading the Ahl al-Sunnah's critisim regarding the issue of infallibility, one will imagine that it is the Shi'ah who are girding the badge of 'ismah to whomever they wish, or that the one believing in 'ismah is claiming an abomination and blasphemy.

Whereas the truth is neither this nor that, but 'ismah in the perspective of the Shi'ah, is in fact the state in which the infallible should be favoured with a Divine care and Lordly patronage, so that neither Satan can seduce him, nor the soul enjoining unto evil can ever overcome his mind, leading him toward (perpetrating) sins. And Allah has never denied His pious bondmen this favour, as referred to in the verse: "Verily those who guard (themselves against evil) when an evil thought from the Satan afflicteth them, they become mindful (of God and get awakened) then lo! they see (aright)." (7:201)

This provisional infallibility which is imparted upon Allah's bondmen in a certain case, might vanish with the loss of the cause originating it, that is the taqwā (piety). As when the bondman being distant from piety of Allah, he shall never be protected by Allah, while the Imam, who is chosen by Allah the Glorified, never deviates or turns aside from taqwā and God-fearing.

In the Holy Qur'ān a story is cited about our master Yusuf (peace be upon him): "And indeed she longed for him, and he (also) would have longed for her, had he not seen the evidence of his Lord; Thus it was that We turn away from him evil and shameful deeds; Verily he was (one) of Our freed servants." (12:24)

And since our Lord Yusuf hasn't longed for adultery (zinā) as interpreted by some exegetes, far be the prophets of Allah from such abominable act, but he in fact intended to drive her back and, if necessary, beat her. So Allah the Glorified prevented him from (perpetrating) such a sin, since had he perpetrated it, it would have been exploited as a plea to accusing him of corruption, so as to be a strong proof against him, afflicting him with evil on the part of them.

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